Breaching a Personal Injury Confidential Settlement Agreement Can Have Serious Consequences

handshake2.jpgIn a decision demonstrating strong support of confidentiality provisions, even at the expense of family dynamics, in Gulliver Schools, Inc. v. Snay, the Third District Court of Appeal punished a father (the Plaintiff) for informing his college-age daughter that a settlement was reached with the Defendant in an emotional case.

When his employment contract was not renewed, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for age discrimination and retaliation under the Florida Civil Rights Act. Florida Statute Sections 760.01-760.11 and 509.092. Within days of the settlement, which included a confidentiality provision, the Plaintiff’s daughter posted the following message on her Facebook page.

Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.

As a result, the Defendant refused to pay the Plaintiff a large portion of the money promised under the settlement agreement. Plaintiff’s subsequent Motion to Enforce was granted by the trial court. However, the trial court order was reversed on appeal.

The DCA compared what father told daughter — “my conversation with my daughter was that it was settled and we were happy with the results” — against the confidentiality language in the settlement agreement. It mattered not to the DCA that, in dad’s words, “[the daughter] was an intricate part of what was happening. She was retaliated against at Gulliver. So she knew we were going to some sort of mediation. She was very concerned about it. Because of what happened at Gulliver, she had quite a few psychological scars which forced me to put her into therapy.” Here’s the confidentiality language:

13. Confidentiality. . . [T]he plaintiff shall not either directly or indirectly, disclose, discuss or communicate to any entity or person, except his attorneys or other professional advisors or spouse any information whatsoever regarding the existence or terms of this Agreement . . . A breach . . . will result in disgorgement of the Plaintiffs portion of the settlement Payments.

The court held that

“the plain, unambiguous meaning of paragraph 13 of the agreement between Snay and the school is that neither Snay nor his wife would ‘”either directly or indirectly”‘ disclose to anyone (other than their lawyers or other professionals) ‘”any information”‘ regarding the existence or the terms of the parties’ agreement.

This holding demonstrates the importance of choosing settlement language carefully and abiding by the terms, including with regard to confidentiality. The court explained that the dilemma could have been averted had the Plaintiff raised his concerns up front and included language in the agreement to allow some settlement information disclosure to his daughter.
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