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Dental school settlement details must be revealed

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Dental school settlement details must be revealed

  • Louisiana State University’s dental school is appealing a decision requiring it to release the details of a malpractice settlement even though the disclosure could affect the settlement of similar claims against the school.

June 10, 2003 — The Louisiana State University dental school Friday filed an appeal to a May 9 state court of appeals ruling that it must release details of a settlement agreement.

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune sued the dental school in July 2002 after the state Office of Risk Management denied the newspaper’s request for the amount the state paid a patient in a 2001 lawsuit settlement. In 1992, Mary Elizabeth Leger sued LSU dentist John Kent claiming that a dental implant fell apart and poisoned her.

The office had claimed in court testimony that the Leger case “remained an open claim file” because there were two class-action lawsuits pending based on similar claims. The state’s attorney said it was not required to release information related to pending claims.

The court’s decision noted that Julian Thompson, director of the Office of Risk Management, had said that if the settlement in the Leger case became known, it “could adversely affect [the state’s] ability to reach reasonable settlements in” the other cases.

“But while we recognize that the information in this case may potentially hamper the ORM from reaching settlements in related cases, such a potentiality cannot negate the public’s fundamental right of access,” the court stated. “In the case of the Public Records Act we are instructed to find in favor of disclosure whenever there is any doubt as to the interpretation of the statute.”

The court also said that for the documents to be kept secret, the state legislature must pass a law that “specifically and unequivocally provides for this exception.”

The decision affirms a lower court ruling in September 2002 that the newspaper has the right to see the terms of the settlement.

(The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp. v. The Board of Advisors of Louisiana State University, Media counsel: James Swanson, Correro Fishman Haygood Phelps Walmsley & Casteix, L.L.P., New Orleans) GS


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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