Sometime before March 2021, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee contacted representatives for the then-Texans quarterback. deshaun watson in connection with a civil lawsuit against Watson. It is common, if not routine, for attorneys to attempt to settle claims before filing them in court. In this case, however, Watson’s camp steadfastly refused to even talk.
In hindsight, that was the first, and possibly the biggest, mistake made on Watson’s behalf. Buzbee made an initial demand of $100,000. Typically, that indicates a willingness to settle in the range of $50,000 to $75,000. And if Watson had simply settled that first claim, there may never have been a second.
Instead, Watson’s representatives refused to make even an upset-level opening offer, in the range of $5,000 or $10,000, to keep discussions moving. At one point, they requested more information on Buzbee’s claim and basically asked him to make a new (and lower) offer.
“I can tell you that at the time I was angry,” Buzbee said Thursday at a news conference. “The US Navy in me would not be denied at that time. We had no choice but to file a lawsuit.”
That is a capital sin, as negotiations go. Attorneys should never be asked to bid against their own bid. There is a ritual, an etiquette. If one side wants the other side to make a new offer, that side needs to make its own offer.
Buzbee explained during her press conference that she tried to resolve the first case (the one brought by Ashley Solís) in private, to protect her from scrutiny, criticism, threats, etc. As Buzbee said, confidential settlements are made in the American court system every day. Frankly, professional athletes often pay for private, confidential settlements to avoid the same kind of controversy and complications Watson has experienced, from a criminal investigation to an NFL suspension. If that first case is set in an acceptable range for Buzbee, he never gets “angry”. He never gets motivated to find more clients with similar claims against Watson.
To date, Watson has spent far more than the $100,000 originally requested by Buzbee. Buzbee said Thursday that his firm incurred more than $250,000 in out-of-pocket expenses while litigating the 24 cases he ultimately filed. Last October, Watson offered each of the 22 plaintiffs (two more have since sued) $100,000 to settle. All but four were ready to continue.
This year, after Watson received multiple hits of bad publicity while seemingly being caught off guard in the barrage, 20 of the cases have been settled. So what was the magic number at the time? $250,000 each? Buzbee cannot say what the plaintiffs received, due to confidentiality provisions in the agreements. However, it would definitely be appropriate for him to send a deliberate signal about the value of the 20 settlements by publicly using that same number as the total amount of litigation costs incurred.
If that’s really the number, that means Watson spent $5 million to solve 20 of the cases. As for the four who said “no thanks,” three of them have since changed their minds. I will assume (and again this is just guesswork) that the other three received $500,000 each to finally settle their cases. That brings the total to $6.5 million.
One more to go. She has resisted all offers to date. What will it take for her not to take her case to trial? One million?
Then there’s the fact that the Texans settled with 30 potential plaintiffs in total. Watson may have reached private settlements with six women who had not yet sued him. At $250,000 (again, a wild guess), that’s another $1.5 million.
And none of this includes the legal fees paid to the firm of Rusty Hardin for defending the civil actions and Hardin’s aggressive efforts to help Watson avoid criminal prosecution. Hardin, an experienced and accomplished litigator, surely charges a very high hourly rate for his time. He had a team of lawyers working on these cases. They worked on them for over 16 months and they are still working on one of them. Additionally, Hardin’s firm handled the league’s internal effort to discipline Watson, another source of significant legal fees and expenses.
So how much did Watson pay his lawyers? Another $5 million? Plus? Watson provided Hardin’s firm with the perfect type of client: Watson had the money and the motivation to fight, as he apparently continues to insist that he did nothing wrong.
Watson may well have already spent more than $10 million (with the meter still running) relating to something that could have been quietly and efficiently solved for perhaps $75,000. No advertising. no shame Without detriment to his reputation. No stress or tension. No suspension.
It’s an important (and ridiculously expensive) lesson learned by Watson, and a warning to all other professional athletes who may be approached for a private settlement of a potential legal claim. It is better to spend a relatively small amount of money now than much later.