Viewing Settlement Agreement in Mass Tort Case...
(Cape May, NJ, USA)
I hired an attorney for a personal injury case. I was put in a mass tort and the company (defendant) wanted to settle, which my attorneys agreed to. Shouldn't I as a plaintiff in this case have a right to view the settlement agreement before I agree to settle for any amount of this mass tort?
My attorney said because she signed a confidentiality agreement with the defendant that I could not view this settlement agreement, but it is my case so why is this ok?
Also, now that my attorney has withdrawn from my case because I refused the settlement offer, she will not give me my complete file. How do I legally get it?
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ANSWER for "Viewing Settlement Agreement in Mass Tort Case...":
Steve (Caper May, NJ, USA):
From the facts you present it appears you were involved in a "Class Action" lawsuit. Because of the large number of plaintiffs in Class Actions it is impossible for the law firm representing the "Class" to consult with each plaintiff (client) during the period of representation.
As a result most law firms have each Class member sign several agreements at or about the time legal representation commences. One of those documents is a "Consent to Enter into Settlement Agreement".
They are referred to by other names, but in essence they are general consents to permit the law firm to negotiate the class action without having to consent with each class member at the time the law firm decides to enter into a settlement agreement.
It is also normal and appropriate for attorneys to enter into "Confidentiality Agreements" when settling class actions, and to do so without the express consent of their clients.
The defendant corporations usually require confidentiality agreements as part of the settlement. This is often done to protect their public image, where the corporation does not accept liability for the actions of their product. Instead they agree to settle the case without admitting culpability. It's similar to a "No Contest" plea in a civil case.
Your attorney has a right to withdraw from your representation with the consent of the judge hearing the case. Your attorney though does NOT have a right to withhold copies of your file - that is unless in the initial agreements you signed you waived your right to copies. That is unlikely.
If you haven't waived your rights to a copy of your file then send a certified letter to the law firm requesting copies of it. If after a couple of weeks you don't receive the copies you requested contact the New Jersey Bar Association to file a complaint.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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