Recently, a former East Penn Township police officer sued the township police department and some supervisors. A secret insurance settlement was reached but the involved parties are prohibited from discussing the terms of the settlement.
Often we hear of doctors sued, and then settlements reached with the details remaining private.
This happens all the time. School directors or county officials are sued, but the end result is never made public.
It's not fair to the taxpayers.
Even when an out-of-court settlement is reached, there's a chance that insurance premiums could rise so in essence the taxpayer is paying for the decision. Sometimes there are out-of-pocket expenses involved in the settlement. Again, it falls back on who is paying the tab while being kept in the dark.
In the East Penn suit, some township officials said they would have preferred going to trial but never got the opportunity. One supervisor said he wanted the opportunity to prove his innocense in a public forum - a courtroom. Instead, the complaintant was paid money to settle.
This isn't fair not only to the taxpayers, but to the accused.
It's often stated that settlements occur because it is less expensive than going to trial, thus theoretically being less burdensome financially on the respective municipality.
The fact is, when a lawsuit is filed, the details of the allegations are public. Often this means tarnishing the name and reputation of the accused.
When the settlement occurs in private, the accused isn't vindicated.
In the East Penn case, settlement occured for only a fraction of what the accuser was seeking. But the public isn't even permitted to be made aware of this.
When doctors are accused in lawsuits, an out-of-court settlement means they don't get the chance to tell their side; not in a court of law and not in the face of the public who had been privy to seeing the accusations but not the end result.
We'd love to see legislation prohibiting secret settlements in civil court cases. Such settlements are happening too frequently, and with too little regard for the defendants.
By RON GOWER