Many of you have likely heard of civil settlements that involve confidentiality provisions. The terms will vary depending on the agreement, but generally they say that no party can discuss the settlement amount (usually applicable to the party receiving the settlement) or comment about the underlying facts that gave rise to the litigation or potential litigation.
This is not an uncommon thing in cases that involve large sums of money, public figures (i.e., athletes, celebrities, etc.) or cases where the defendant may have additional exposure in other pending cases (e.g., GM with the ignition switch litigation). I once had a judge in Baltimore City get very irritated with me because I wouldn’t disclose the amount my client was paying to the plaintiffs to settle their cases. I calmly explained that it was a confidential settlement. After voicing his displeasure at me, he eventually conceded that it was within my client’s rights for me to not disclose the amount.
Do provisions like this have any teeth? What can be done if a party violates the confidentiality provision?
Oksana Grigorieva, Mel Gibson’s ex-girlfriend, found out the hard way. A California appeals court just affirmed a judgment that absolved Gibson of his obligation to make settlement payments to Grigorieva. Gibson and Grigorieva both sued each other in 2010. He sued to establish paternity of the couple’s daughter. She sued him for defamation and battery. They eventually reached a settlement agreement in which Gibson would pay $20,000 per month for child support and in exchange he was declared the father of the child. Additionally, to resolve the battery and defamation claims, Gibson agreed to pay Grigorieva $750,000.00 in three installments.
Sometime after receiving the first $250,000.00 payment, Grigorieva appeared on the Howard Stern Show and made comments that Gibson argued violated the settlement agreement. The California appellate court agreed and Grigorieva is not going to receive any of the remaining $500,000.00 from the settlement.
Another person had his $80,000.00 settlement voided when his daughter decided to post something on Facebook.
If you sign something that contains a confidentiality provision, it’s best to comply, or it could end up costing you. Just ask Oksana Grigorieva.