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Personal Injury Verdicts & Awards

Judge refuses to seal $3 million settlement

Judge refuses to seal $3 million settlement

8/31/06 - The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Judge Ciavarella says public has right to know terms of medical malpractice cases.


WILKES-BARRE - A Luzerne County judge on Wednesday approved a $3 million settlement for a medical malpractice case, but he refused to seal the settlement as had been requested by a state fund that will pay part of the money.

Judge Mark Ciavarella said he believes the public has a right to know settlement terms in such cases and will refuse to seal any that come before him, according to a transcript of a hearing held Wednesday.

The settlement was filed in the case of Walter Bryk, 42, of Dupont, who died on March 27 after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery at Mercy Hospital in Scranton.

Bryk's widow, Amanda Bryk, filed suit against Dr. Kenneth Wilcox, the hospital and several other related entities after an autopsy showed the death was caused because Wilcox had failed to properly "tie off" sutures he had made in Bryk's heart. That caused the sutures to rupture, killing Bryk instantly.

Amanda Bryk's attorney, Joseph Quinn of Kingston, negotiated the settlement. But final resolution of the case was held up because the state fund that provides excess coverage in medical malpractice cases objected to the filing of court papers that detailed how the $3 million would be structured for Amanda Bryk and the couple's 6-year-old son, Zachary.

Attorneys with the fund, known as the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund, or M-Care Fund for short, also wanted Ciavarella to seal the entire case, which would prevent the public from seeing paperwork associated with it.

During Wednesday's hearing Ciavarella rejected both requests.

"I am opposed to any confidentiality and I'm opposed to any sealing of any record in any medical malpractice case," Ciavarella said, according to a hearing transcript. "I believe the public has a right to know ... (and) physicians who practice in this area have a right to know what the terms and conditions of any settlement are, and for that reason I will not agree to seal any record for any matters that come before me."

In an interview Wednesday, Quinn said he could not comment specifically about Bryk's case. Speaking generally, he said he opposes the sealing of settlements, but often has no choice because defendants mandate confidentiality.

"I think it's important for the public to understand, there are cases that don't have merit, but there are some that do," Quinn said.

The M-Care fund provides secondary insurance coverage to physicians and certain other medical professionals. It is funded through surcharges placed on medical professionals, as well as revenue generated by a cigarette tax, said Melissa Fox, spokeswoman for the state Insurance Department.

About HKQ Law

HKQ Law is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Nine attorneys at HKQ Law were recently named to the 2019 Best Lawyers List and has been designated a Tier 1 Best Law Firm for personal injury, medical malpractice litigation labor law and corporate law in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history on behalf of injured clients. The firm was also recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A. Quinn is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

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