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State courts seal medical malpractice case results, preventing patients from learning of their doctor’s medical errors

In many medical malpractice cases, judges are sealing results to prevent the public from reviewing the cases. This means for example, a doctor who made a medical error that lead to a $9.9 million payout may be operating and working on patients, unbeknownst to any of them.

When a case goes to trial and a jury verdict is rendered, the results can’t be sealed. However, many of these cases settle before they go to trial and the results are sealed. With the number of results being sealed these days, the practice is likely unconstitutional. Judges wanting to make a record secret must meet a high standard – such as determining that a witness would be harmed if something is made public.

According to the state Supreme Court’s 1991 Davis v. Jennings decision, judges must state why records should be sealed. The Supreme Court also said a judge may keep a record open if a case has a “public . . . significance.”

In medical negligence suits, the public interest would be served by allowing the public to learn the amount of money doctors pay victims in court settlements because this is indicative of how valid the claim was.

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