I am a personal injury lawyer who sues and often settles accident cases against Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Disney, and others, on behalf of people who have been hurt on a cruise ship. If and when a case settles–which can happen before a lawsuit is filed, after a verdict, or on appeal–the cruise company demands confidentiality as part of the terms of the settlement. In other words, they do not want the plaintiff or me, the lawyer, to discuss the amount of the settlement with anybody . . . that is, Carnival’s executives do not want to read this very blog and see that I am telling the world how much or how little they pay on any case.
I can understand it. They do not want to encourage people to sue them. It’s also not good for any business to tell the world publicly how much or why they are paying people who get hurt. And in today’s world of social media, the word gets out faster than ever.
Violating the terms of a confidentiality agreement in a settlement can trigger catastrophic results, such as negating the settlement and liquidated damages. The settlement can be voided, and the injured person can end up even owing the defendant money as a penalty for discussing the settlement.
A most recent and tragic example of a destroyed settlement occurred in the case of Patrick Snay, a former headmaster who sued the ritzy Gulliver School in Miami for age discrimination. After a lengthy legal battle, a settlement was reached. Part of the settlement included a provision that the terms or amount of money being paid the headmaster would not be disclosed to anyone.
Unfortunately, the headmaster shared with his daughter–who happened to be a student at Gulliver at the time–that the case had settled and for how much. The daughter, as many teenage girls would do, immediately shared the news with her 1200 friends on Facebook when she posted the following:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
It did not take long for the news of the breach of confidentiality to reach Gulliver and their lawyers, who immediately sought to have the settlement rescinded.
The school and Snay had come to an agreement in which Snay would be paid $10,000 in back pay, and an $80,000 settlement. Gulliver Schools had also agreed to cut Snay’s attorneys a check for $60,000.
Snay’s age discrimination case morphed into a case about violating a confidentiality agreement. The trial judge agreed to enforce the settlement, after Snay testified that he knew the litigation was important to his daughter and he therefore felt obligated to tell her something about its resolution. So moments after signing the settlement papers, he and his wife had agreed to inform their daughter that the case was settled and that they were happy with the result.
After Snay filed his successful motion to uphold the settlement with the trial judge, Gulliver appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida. Its opinion states that Snay violated the settlement agreement, “by doing exactly what he had promised not to do. His daughter then did precisely what the confidentiality agreement was designed to prevent, advertising to the Gulliver community that Snay had been successful in his age discrimination and retaliation case against the school.
“Based on the clear and unambiguous language of the parties’ agreement and Snay’s testimony confirming his breach of its terms, we reverse the order entered below granting the Snays’ motion to enforce the agreement.” You can read the full opinion here.
Now that was one expensive Facebook post.
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If you have been injured on a cruise anywhere in the world, we would like to help you . . . and if your case should happen to settle, we know we can count on your maintaining any agreed-upon confidentiality and thereby receiving your full settlement.
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