Settlement Privilege

The Supreme Court of Canada recently commented on Pierringer Agreements.  The issue was whether the non-settling defendants had the right to know the amount of the settlement between the plaintiff and settling defendants.

In Sable Offshore Energy Inc. v. Ameron International Corp. [2013] SCC 37, the plaintiff sued a number of defendants.  It entered into a Pierringer Agreement with several defendants and the non-settling defendants requested disclosure of the settlement amounts.  The non-settling defendants received all non-financial terms of the Agreement, had access to all relevant documents and other evidence in the settling defendants' hands and were assured that they would not be held liable for more than their share of damages.  In addition, the plaintiff agreed to provide the settlement amounts to the trial judge at the end of trial, so that if the non-settling defendants established a right to set-off, their liability for damages could be adjusted downwards. 

The Court held that the settlement amounts did not have to be disclosed to the non-settling defendants.  The amounts were protected by settlement privilege, which is a class privilege, meaning there is a prima facie presumption of inadmissibility.  The public interest in promoting settlement was greater than any prejudice to the non-settling defendants.  The Court rejected the argument that the non-settling defendants required knowledge of the settlement amounts to know and present their case, or to explore their own settlement possibilities.

It is clear that the Court highly values settlement and this decision aims to encourage settlement and the use of Pierringer Agreements in multi-party litigation.

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