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Wrongful-death suit settlements can be hidden from public

December 30, 2008

A recent article from The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that The Virginia Supreme Court has recently ruled that wrongful-death settlements are public documents that can not be kept confidential.

A summary of the court’s opinion:

In wrongful death litigations under Code § 8.01-50 in which settlement agreements were achieved through mediation, the circuit court did not err in requiring the settling parties to file written petitions reciting the financial terms of the compromise settlements in order to obtain court approval pursuant to Code § 8.01-55. The presumption of public access to court records mandated by Code § 17.1-208 and the provisions of Code § 8.01-581.22 governing confidentiality of mediation proceedings are considered, and the decision of the circuit court denying a request to partially seal the records in these cases by permitting the redaction of the monetary amounts of the compromise settlements in the court records is reviewed. The judgment is affirmed and the case is remanded for filing of unredacted records.

Some people still try to hide them by filing them in courts hundreds of miles away from where the cases are first filed.

There are many instances where the public has a right to know about a wrongful-death settlement. Drug liability and product liability cases should not be kept secret so that others in the same situation can have knowledge of what has happened in previous case rulings.