Posted: March 14, 2015
Our courts historically are open to the public, not only in terms of giving every citizen access to the courts to solve disputes, but also in terms of giving all citizens access to what is going on in suits involving others. On any given day in Little Rock, Fort Smith or any other Arkansas city, there will be civil trials underway. In big cities like Dallas or Houston, there will be ten or more trials going on in different courts at any one time. Anyone who wants to can go into the courtroom, have a seat, and listen all they want. Every courtroom has a “gallery” area for people to do just that. Likewise, court records are open to the public. Want to find out if someone has been sued before, or divorced, or convicted of a crime? Those records are available to everyone. And that’s great, because there are things that people get sued for that the public needs to know about—like when a car is dangerous, or when a doctor is sloppy and negligent.
Unfortunately for the public, the vast majority of lawsuits never get to trial—they are settled. And when a case gets settled, part of the deal is always that the defendant wants the settlement to be “confidential”. Settlement agreements in lawsuits against doctors and hospitals always have clauses requiring the plaintiff to keep their mouths shut about what happened and how much they got paid. This means that the sloppy doctor or negligent hospital doesn’t suffer any bad publicity for what they did: and it means that people thinking about going to that doctor or hospital will never find out about what they did that got them sued.
Has your doctor paid settlements in 20 malpractice suits? There would be no way for you to know—county records will reveal only that he was sued and the case against him “dismissed.” This makes it look like the cases were no good, when just the opposite may be true.