Lawyer: West Lawsuit Confidentiality Agreements Not An Issue

The site of the deadly West explosion. (Photo by Kyle Muscarello)
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WEST (July 29, 2014) Steve Harrison, lead counsel for plaintiffs in 15 lawsuits filed over the April 2013 West fertilizer plant explosion that left 15 dead, hundreds hurt and scores of homes and buildings damaged or destroyed, says his team of lawyers, along with State District Judge Jim Meyer, simply won't let confidentiality issues hide details of the explosion and the aftermath from the public.

Meyer already has approved confidentiality agreements requested by attorneys involved in the lawsuits, and the result is that lawyers can label as confidential virtually all information uncovered as they prepare for trial.

The Dallas Morning News reported last week that the information could include more details about injuries and safety testing of the fertilizer that exploded.

"When these lawsuits go to trial, all of that detail will come out and it will be public," Harrison said Monday as he spoke by telephone with News 10 from Chicago.

Harrison was in Chicago preparing to take depositions from defendants in the case.

Harrison said he thinks the Dallas Morning News story made "a mountain out of a molehill."

Legal scholars noted that taxpayers cover the cost for the courts in which lawsuits are tried, which means the information should be public.

Some information presented in trial or in hearings beforehand could qualify as confidential, Harrison said, especially those issues that deal with business information such as client lists or proprietary information about products.

"I'm not concerned about that," Harrison said.

But when it comes to hiding information about the explosion or details about those affected by it, "we're real confident that won't be an issue," he said.

If some lawsuits are settled before trial, "we'll negotiate (the confidentiality) issues and if we (the lawyers) can't agree, the judge will decide," Harrison said.

The issue with confidentiality is that if some information is determined to be confidential in matters settled outside trial, the public may never learn what those details are.

"We're pushing to get these cases to trial," Harrison said.