Discovery of Confidential Settlement Agreements

The Fourth District Court of Appeals for Florida has ruled that a non-settling defendant cannot obtain a court order forcing disclosure of confidential settlements between the plaintiff and settling defendants.

Plaintiffs were involved in an auto accident that was allegedly caused  by tire  failure.   They sued  the car manufacturer,  the  tire manufacturer,  the  car  dealer,  and   Wal-Mart  (the tire dealer and installer).  Three  of  the  defendants  entered  separate confidential  settlement  agreements after a mediation.   Wal-Mart  did not settle and sought discovery of the confidential settlement agreements.  The trial court denied the request, saying that given the fact that joint and several liability had been abolished in Florida the settlement amounts were not relevant.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, saying
Wal-Mart  cannot  show  that  discovery  of  the  settlement amounts  is  necessary  to  determine  entitlement  to  set-off;  it  h a s   not shown  that  the  denial  of  this  discovery  will  eviscerate  its  defense. At trial, Wal-Mart  can ask   the   fact-finder  to  determine  its  percentage  of fault.  It  does  not  need   the   settlement  information  to  show  that  the claims  arise  from  the  same  injury.   The  settlement  information  is  not  admissible or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible information.
This is the correct result.  If confidential settlements are to be permitted at all (and there are sound reasons why they should not be) then a confidential settlement should be, well, confidential.  A non-settling defendant should not be able to trump the terms of the private agreement, especially when the information they would gain has nothing to do with its ability to defend its case.
The case is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Strachan, No. 4D11-253 (FL. App. 4th Dis. Oct. 12, 2011).

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