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Sunday, December 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Your Courts, Their Secrets

UW finally tells what it paid to settle suit

Seattle Times staff reporters

When the public's money is spent, the public has a right to know how much and what for.

But when the University of Washington settled a medical-malpractice lawsuit three years ago, a confidentiality clause barred the injured patient and her lawyers from disclosing "to anyone, including the media," the lawsuit's allegations and the amount paid. To compound matters, the UW then failed to release the settlement agreement when The Seattle Times filed a public-disclosure request one year ago for all of the university's records about the lawsuit.

The Times asked the UW for those records because the newspaper couldn't get them from the courts: The entire file had been sealed, based upon a secrecy request in which the UW joined.

Only this month — after the file was unsealed, and after The Times asked once again for the complete records — did the UW disclose what it paid to settle the lawsuit: $3.2 million.

The lawsuit, filed four years ago in King County Superior Court, accused the UW Medical Center of medical malpractice while instructing a woman on how to use an insulin pump. The woman, a diabetic, went into an insulin-induced coma and suffered permanent brain damage. Her family's lawsuit blamed a UW diabetes educator and the insulin pump's manufacturer, Medtronic Inc.

Medtronic and the UW settled separately in 2003, and the whole file was then sealed.

The Times filed a motion this year saying the court had improperly granted wholesale secrecy, and, in September, the lawsuit was opened. But settlement figures weren't included in the court's file.

The woman's family said Medtronic's insulin pump had a faulty design and provided inadequate warnings. The lawsuit also detailed how Medtronic had failed to report the woman's injury to federal regulators, who use such reports to track problems with medical devices.

The Times has filed a separate motion seeking to learn what Medtronic paid to settle, but that motion is pending.

Norm Arkans, a UW spokesman, said it appears the university made an error when it failed to disclose the settlement agreement in response to the newspaper's public-disclosure request in December 2005: "It's pretty clear that the settlement ... should have been released back then."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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