On the surface, the Houston Texans’ decision to settle with a woman who had sued the team over alleged misconduct by former quarterback Deshaun Watson and 29 others who have not yet sued has no impact on Watson. The lawsuits against him — four are still pending and, as a result of the Houston settlement, up to six that could still sue him — are unaffected. At a deeper level, there are pros and cons to locating in Houston.
The good news is that if/when the cases against the Texans go to trial, Watson will not be called as a witness in this lawsuit. He might have been questioned under oath (in the form of a deposition) before each trial, and he would no doubt have been asked to testify at each trial. Even if he had settled all of the cases pending against him by then, he would have faced harsh questioning from attorney Tony Buzbee and possibly the team’s attorney 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 the team in turn did nothing wrong. The team could alternatively have tried to blame Watson for being the one who should have been prosecuted for any wrongdoing.
In this sense, the comparison avoids a very uncomfortable dynamic. If the lawsuits against the Texans had been filed directly against the team and not added to the existing cases (as the first was presented), the Texans might have added Watson to the cases as a third-party defendant when they formally responded to each lawsuit, arguing, that Watson was responsible for any damage allegedly suffered, not the team. The headline could easily have read, “Texans Sue Deshaun Watson.” The Texans’ settlements avoid this procedural complication.
The bad news is that the settlements for the four pending cases and the six potential additional cases will help fund the ongoing litigation. Although the amount is not known and may never be known, any amount paid to the women who are or will be suing Watson can be used to pay costs in the four remaining cases against him. It could also encourage those who have rejected settlement offers to be even more resolute in their positions and to insist on a public trial.
At this point, Watson and his attorneys may be entitled to know the amounts paid by the Texans in the pending cases. The Texans and Buzbee would certainly fight any such attempt. Watson, through his attorneys, can argue that the information may be relevant to the remaining litigation and is therefore fair game for the investigative process. If settlements are low, the possible argument would be that it shows cases are weak. If the comparisons are high, Watson could seek credit for dollars against any judgments against him. Again, the team and Buzbee would certainly fight any such attempt to implement the settlement amounts in court.
It’s still a double-edged sword for Watson. The more Texans pay, the more there seems to be a reason to pay. That the Texans knew of Watson’s alleged wrongdoing and failed to stop it. That Watson had indeed committed wrongdoing.
Irrespective of this, the bottom line is that the situation, which threatened to become hopelessly complicated with up to 30 new lawsuits against the Texans, has tightened. From the NFL’s perspective, this is good news. It guarantees that this protracted diversion will finally be over once the remaining proceedings against Watson are completed.