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I've been involved in a Mass Tort lawsuit against a drug company for several years. Recently, a confidential settlement agreement was reached between the law firm representing me and the drug company. I don't intend to agree to the settlement because the terms are simply unacceptable. My question is, if I don't accept this agreement and I cut ties with my lawyers, am I under any obligation to keep quiet about the settlement terms?

The case is being tried in New Jersey, but I'm located in another state.

  • Excellent question. It wouldn't be admissible evidence in most circumstances, but it would be hard to find grounds to hold that you could be punished for disclosing it. As others note, the circumstances are a bit unclear. – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 21:58
  • Maybe this will help to clarify... I found an article about the settlement online, so hopefully there isn't a conflict since it's public information: lexislegalnews.com/articles/25900/… – Andrew Jun 27 '18 at 22:40
  • This is closed access but the available part says: "Propecia Claimant Settlement Fund Listed As $4.29M; $5,000 Is Top Minimum Award (April 13, 2018, 2:44 PM EDT) -- BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Despite an earlier statement that the terms of a master settlement agreement for 562 Propecia injuries cases will be sealed, the plaintiffs on April 10 filed a proposed plan of allocation that disclosed that the total claimant fund is $4,292,000 provided that 100 percent of the plaintiffs participate (In Re: Propecia [Finasteride] Products Liability Litigation, MDL Docket No. 2331, No. 12-md-2331, E.D. N.Y.)." – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 22:49
  • Hmm. I think it means the fund amount will be exactly $4,292,000 provided that all plaintiffs participate. Not that the settlement is void if any plaintiffs don't participate. – Andrew Jun 27 '18 at 22:53
  • It does mean that. – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 22:55
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Probably not.

It appears that in the case in question, your lawyers, while they were representing you, agreed to a protective order that kept certain information including settlement offers made to them by the opposing parties' lawyers (even if those offers were rejected) confidential.

You are bound by the agreements made by your lawyers if they are your lawyers at the time, even they later cease to be your lawyers.

So, if you were to make the disclosure of this information subject to a protective order, the court involved could hold you in contempt of court and issue sanctions (including fines and incarceration) for failing to honor the court order to seal the case, because this protective order was binding upon you, because you agreed to it through your lawyers who were acting as your agents at the time.

The fact that you are no longer represented by those lawyers doesn't vacate the protective order.

CAVEAT: This is an interpretation of the facts made with incomplete information. A truly reliable answer would require review of the exact documents in the case filed with the court which is beyond the scope of Law.SE.

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am I under any obligation to keep quiet about the settlement terms?

No, unless some relevant information is missing in your description.

I gather that the case is tried under the New Jersey law. If otherwise, please clarify. Also, I'm assuming that you did not sign anything that gives your attorney(s) unrestricted, full discretion in the decision-making.

From the description you provide, the settlement seemingly violates the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct and therefore it is void.

You mention that the settlement agreement was reached between the law firm and the defendant. Since you deem the terms simply unacceptable, it appears that the attorney(s) representing you violated RPC 1.2(a) (stating in relevant part: "A lawyer shall abide by a client's decision whether to settle a matter.") and/or RPC 1.8(g) ("A lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making an aggregate settlement of the claims of [...] the clients").

The court in Cardillo v. Bloomfield 206 Corp., 411 N.J.Super. 574; 988 A2d. 136, 140 (2010) states that

"A contract that violates the Rules of Professional Conduct is void and unenforceable as a violation of public policy. Jacob v. Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, supra, 128 N.J. at 17, 607 A.2d 142. Because the Cardillo Agreement violates RPC 5.6(b), it is not enforceable."

Replacing RPC 5.6 with the rules I mentioned above, a similar conclusion would apply to your situation. Therefore, you are under no obligation to comply with the terms or confidentiality of what is an invalid settlement contract.

P.S: We pro se litigants are often ridiculed for representing ourselves in court, but the situation you describe is an example of (many) attorneys disavowing their rules of "professional" conduct and defrauding even their own clients.

  • 3
    The OP may be part of a class-action lawsuit, in that case being a party to the class-action may have some overriding principles, like the lawyers being able to act on behalf of the class majority, regardless of an individuals agreement to settle it. Also depending on what agreements were entered into with the class-action, the settlement may be binding even if the OP doesn't accept the terms, or they may be electing to try as an individual in that case, but it may still require confidentiality in the class-action agreement. – Ron Beyer Jun 27 '18 at 21:47
  • I don't think that the OP is talking about a settlement offer that was accepted over his objection outside a possible class action suit where 1.2 and 1.8 wouldn't apply (because the client would be the "class" and not individual class members). It is talking either about a rejected settlement offer in an individual lawsuit, or about a class-action case where he opted out of the class. – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 22:01
  • Perhaps I left out some relevant details, but I was trying to be as vague as possible so I don't disclose any details relevant to the case. It is not a class action lawsuit, I am one of many claimants represented by this firm as a part of Mass Tort litigation. The settlement was offered by the drug company voluntarily, and my lawyers advised me and other clients to accept the settlement or they would no longer represent us on a contingency basis. Basically, they decided to cut their losses and agree to a terrible settlement. – Andrew Jun 27 '18 at 22:29
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    So, as pertinent to this response, the terms were in a rejected settlement offer, not a settlement offer accepted over the objection of a client. The legal issue would appear to be that the case was "under seal" and this protective order could bind people who were clients of the lawyers in the case for them at the time the protective order was in place which it probably would. – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 22:57
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    I'm not going to down vote this answer because it was written when the facts of the OP were less clear, but it is pretty clear at this point that the answer is non-responsive to the actual question at the OP was trying to ask. – ohwilleke Jun 27 '18 at 23:10

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