The Harrison
Law Group, P.C.

Are Lawsuit Settlements Public Record in New York?

January 27, 2022

If you have been injured in a personal injury accident, you may be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation. Thinking about filing a lawsuit can be stressful, especially while you are healing from devastating injuries. There are many unknown parts of the process because most people have not gone through a lawsuit before. The idea of putting your personal information and situation out there in a public court hearing can make many people feel uncomfortable. Many victims of personal injury accidents are concerned about the public nature of filing a lawsuit.

Settlements are Private and Made Out of Court, and Court Rulings are Public

It is essential to understand the difference between a public lawsuit in a private settlement. Filing a public lawsuit may not be the best option in your case. You may be able to pursue compensation from an insurance company or person still a private settlement agreement.  Generally speaking, if you decide to settle your claim privately outside of court, the result of this element will not be published publicly. 

Many settlement agreements contain confidentiality agreements that both parties must sign. They will face penalties if they disclose any information about the settlement after being signed. However, if you file a lawsuit in court and a judge or jury decides on your case, the results will be considered public record. Once a court ruling is made public, it is possible that the details of your injuries, both sides’ arguments, and the verdict amount can be made public. 

How Much Information Will be Made Public After Filing a Lawsuit?

At Harrison Law Group, we represent clients in lawsuits involving medical malpractice, serious injuries, car accidents, workplace accidents, and more. Most of these cases are filed in state or federal court. In state court, most documents are not filed with the county clerk. Therefore, they are not part of the public nature. The following documents are typically not made public:

  • The bill of particulars which outlines the plaintiff’s injuries in detail
  • The plaintiff’s medical records
  • The witness list
  • Letters between the attorneys
  • Most documents outlining the terms of a settlement

As a result, in a lawsuit, the initiating papers, some miscellaneous documents generating the lawsuit and papers that finalized the lawsuit are made public. The short answer is that while the filing itself is a matter of public record, much of the information that would be considered private remains out of the public sphere, such as income information, medical records, and settlement terms. However, this is not always the case. Some of this information may become publicly available. Also, the court rulings themselves will be available to the public.

Deciding to Take Your Case to Court

There are several factors to consider if you are thinking about filing a lawsuit. If there are privacy concerns, the court may decide to give the party an anonymous name like Jane Doe. This is common in cases involving sexual crimes and abuse. In most cases, your name will be public. The court records will also be public. If your case involves something in the public interest, there could be a media circus around your case. Reporters typically find out about lawsuits through their own research of recently filed cases in the county clerk’s office. 

They sometimes get tips from employees in those offices or from the attorneys of one of the parties. In reality, there are many factors that someone needs to consider before engaging in a public trial. Many people do not want their private problems to be made public in any way, which is understandable. Steps can be made to limit public disclosure, but filing a lawsuit may result in some of your private information becoming publicly available.

The Benefits of Settling Out of Court

Many  personal injury plaintiffs may choose to pursue an out-of-court settlement and for good reason. When you settle out of court, you will be able to retain more control over many aspects of your lawsuit. The defendant will not have to admit their liability or negligence which can be important for some companies and individuals. The defendant may be more likely to agree to a settlement if they do not have to admit fault. The reason that most personal injury lawsuits go to court is because one side wants to make a public statement about what happened or is being unreasonable about the settlement amount. 

Another benefit of settling out of court involves your timeline. If you have to go to court, the litigation may take years. For those with significant injuries, waiting years to obtain compensation can be difficult, if not impossible. Once the judge rules in a court case, either party has the right to appeal the decision which can require you returning to the courtroom and another hearing. 

In some cases, the appeals process can take years to complete because appellate judges have to determine whether the law was misapplied in the trial court hearing during each separate appeal. If the judge rules against you, you may feel like you wasted thousands of dollars and years of your life pursuing the compensation you never obtained. 

On the other hand, if you settle with a defendant or insurance provider, the process can take less than ten months and save you money. However, in some cases settling out of court is not an option. The defendant may not agree to give you the compensation you deserve, requiring you to pursue compensation through a trial. Additionally, many cases settle after the lawsuit has been filed in court but before the court reaches a decision. 

About Harrison Law Group, P.C.

The Harrison Law Group, P.C. is a well-known, and respected personal injury law firm who is exclusively dedicated to handing a wide range of personal injury cases which include but are not limited to motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, traumatic brain injuries, serious and catastrophic injuries, soft tissue injuries, construction accidents, and many other injury cases.

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