When you are filing a wrongful death claim, you may be wondering if the information about your case and any potential wrongful death settlement will become public record in Washington State. In general, wrongful death settlements are not public record. As such, you should not anticipate that a wrongful death settlement reached prior to a trial or during a trial will be accessible to the public. However, there are exceptions, and it is important to understand how information about wrongful death settlements can become part of the public record, and what steps you may be able to take to avoid having the details of your settlement agreement accessible by the public. Our Washington State wrongful death lawyers can provide you with more information, and we can assist you with your wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Settlements Can Include Confidentiality Clauses
Most people who file wrongful death lawsuits do not want information about settlements to be accessible by the public, and most defendants also do not want the details of the settlement to become part of the public record. For these reasons, wrongful death settlement agreements often contain confidentiality clauses that limit access to or discussion of the details of the settlement. A confidentiality agreement is a contract between the parties, which means that either party’s disclosure of the settlement details can result in a breach of contract claim.
Without a confidentiality clause, settlement agreements themselves—as long as an exception does not apply, which we will discuss below—are not required to be part of any public record. Washington State courts have not held that the public has a right to general settlement records, and there is no requirement that general settlement records be made accessible to the public. There is also no central location in which settlement agreements are housed or stored, unlike court cases in Washington.
Settlements Involving a Public Agency May Be Accessed by the Public
Regardless of whether you include an express confidentiality agreement in your wrongful death settlement, information about settlements in wrongful death claims and other civil lawsuits is not generally part of the public record. Even with a request made through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or by other means of access, settlement agreements are generally private. This is also true of documents pertaining to settlement negotiations. However, there is an exception when the settlement involves a public agency. When a public agency is involved, the settlement may be accessible under the Washington State Public Records Act.
Settlements Filed with the Court or Litigated May Be Part of the Public Record
In addition to settlements involving a public agency, any settlement that was filed with a court in Washington State or that ended up in a court case may also be part of the public record and may be accessible through ordinary means of accessing court records, according to Washington case law.
Contact a Washington State Wrongful Death Attorney
If you have questions about wrongful death settlements in Washington, or if you need assistance negotiating a wrongful death settlement in your case, one of our Washington State wrongful death attorneys can help. Contact Khan Law Firm PLLC for assistance.