The state of Utah made national news recently, and the story did not paint all Utahns in a good light, although it made a hero of others. On October 31, 2017, Utah nurse Alex Wubbles told police officers that they could not take a blood sample from an unconscious man without his consent or a warrant. Police officers restrained Wubbles and dragged her to a police car. After footage from officers’ body cameras was released to the media, the officers involved were penalized, and Wubbles has reportedly accepted a settlement from Salt Lake City and the University of Utah for half a million dollars.
These are the kinds of stories that pique the interest of clients. People wonder what they have to do to get a settlement like that. Other people start griping about tort reform, and our overly litigious society. I may be able to help you understand the situation better if I put a lawyer spin on things.
Settlements are Always Confidential (Mostly)
Whenever you settle a personal injury claim, the plaintiff almost always has to sign a mountain of paperwork keeping the settlement a secret. In this case, the news got out because the parties held a press conference. The media reported that there would be a sum of $500,000.00, but no one has seen the check or any paperwork outlining the actual transaction.
Always take what you read with a grain of salt. The primary sources are hard to track down, and the attorneys are attempting to control the media as much as the media is trying to control the story and write headlines. Everything may not be as it seems.
(I need to confess that I was once a newspaper reporter. I am not bashing the industry; I just never trust anyone’s eyes but my own. I like to see the documents for myself. Someone standing at a podium spouting numbers is just not good enough for me. It should not be good enough for anyone.)
A Settlement is Not an Admission of Liability, Fault, or Guilt
Somewhere in that mountain of paperwork a plaintiff signs after a settlement is a phrase something like this: “This is not an admission of liability. . . . . ” It is usually a lot longer, but this is not the place for verbose boiler plate. Although, the line might seem like legal mumbo jumbo, it is technically true. When a case settles out of court, the defendant has not been found guilty (liable in civil cases) of anything.
Settlements come because the plaintiff has convinced the defendant that if this case were to go through the litigation process, which is expensive, time consuming, and a magnet for bad press, the outcome would be bad for them. Either the evidence is good, and the defendant thinks he or she will lose in court, so he or she settles early because it is cheaper; or the defendant does not think they are responsible for the injuries, but he or she thinks it would be easier, cheaper, and less damning to settle the case before it goes to trial.
Either way, the situation may not be what it seems. Next time you see a police officer, do not attempt to get wrongfully arrested for a payday.