22 NYCRR 2.1.1(a) provides that courts shall not seal court records except upon a written finding of good cause. The rule also requires courts to consider the interest of the public as well as the parties in determination whether good cause has been shown. In this regard, the presumption of public access to court proceedings takes precedence, and the sealing of court papers is permitted only to serve compelling objectives.
In Matter of East 51st Street Crane Collapse Litig., the Supreme Court sealed a settlement in one of many wrongful death actions arising out of a crane collapse until all of the wrongful death actions were settled. With one wrongful death action still pending, the Supreme Court sealed the documents.
On appeal, the defendants argued that sealing the records prevents the risk that the parties will attempt to use prior settlement information as an artificial threshold in valuing their own cases. In response, the plaintiffs contended that unsealing the settlement documents were necessary to enable them to ascertain the available insurance coverage and thus make informed decisions as to the benefits and drawbacks of settling their own claims. The First Department agreed with the plaintiffs and affirmed.
Special thanks to Gabriel Darwick for his contribution.
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