On the surface, the decision of the Houston Texans to settle with one woman who had sued the team over former quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s alleged misconduct and with 29 others who had not yet sued has no impact on Watson. The claims against him — four still pending and, based on the Houston settlement, up to six who could still sue him — are not affected. At a deeper level, there are pros and cons to Houston settling.
The good news is that, if/when the cases against the Texans go to trial, Watson won’t get dragged into that litigation as a witness. He would have been potentially questioned under oath in advance of each trial (in the form of a deposition), and he undoubtedly would have been called to testify at each and every trial. Even if he had settled all of the cases pending against him by then, he would have faced tough questioning from attorney Tony Buzbee and possibly from the team’s lawyer, based on the specific defense(s) developed and asserted before a jury. The team could have tried to show that Watson did nothing wrong and, in turn, the team did nothing wrong. The team alternatively could have tried to blame it all on Watson, that he’s the one who should have been pursued for compensation for any wrongdoing.
Along those same lines, the settlement avoids what would have been a very awkward dynamic. If the cases against the Texans would have been filed directly against the team and not added to the existing cases (that’s how the first one was presented), the Texans would have potentially added Watson to the cases as a third-party defendant when formally responding to each lawsuit, arguing that Watson is responsible for any alleged harm suffered, not the team. The headline easily could have been, “Texans sue Deshaun Watson.” The settlements by the Texans avoid this procedural complication.
The bad news is that, for the four pending cases and the six potential additional ones, the settlements will help fund the ongoing litigation. Although the amount isn’t known and may never be, any amount paid to the women still suing or who will be suing Watson can be used to help pay the expenses in the four cases still pending against him. It also could embolden those who have refused settlement offers to hold even more firm in their positions, and to insist on having a public trial.
On that point, Watson and his lawyers may be entitled to learn within the confines of the pending cases the amounts paid by the Texans. The Texans and Buzbee surely would fight any such effort. Watson, through his lawyers, may argue that the information could be relevant to the remaining litigation, and thus is fair game for the discovery process. If the settlements are low, the potential argument would be that it shows the cases are weak. If the settlements are high, Watson could try to get credit dollar-for-dollar credit against any verdict entered against him. Again, the team and Buzbee would surely fight any such attempt to introduce the settlement amounts in open court.
It’s still a two-edged sword for Watson. The more the Texans pay, the more it appears that there was a reason to pay. That the Texans had known about Watson’s alleged wrongdoing and failed to stop it. That Watson had indeed engaged in wrongdoing.
Regardless, the bottom line is that the situation, which was on the verge of becoming hopelessly complicated with up to 30 fresh lawsuits against the Texans, has become streamlined. From the NFL’s perspective, that’s good news. It guarantees that, once the remaining cases against Watson end, this protracted distraction will finally be over.