Wrongdoers Profit While Americans Get Hurt
In the last decade alone, companies that settled product liability cases were able to conceal thousands of injuries and deaths associated with everyday products like automobile tires, magnetic toys, collapsing baby cribs, and prescription drugs. A 2004 Federal Judicial Center study suggests that, in 2001 and 2002, settlements may have been sealed in as many as 500 personal injury cases in the federal courts.1 Each case could potentially be hiding another dangerous product or a pattern of negligent conduct.
The Sunshine in Litigation Act (S. 537/H.R. 5884), would make settling lawsuits with secrecy agreements more difficult; ensuring that life saving information is not kept hidden. In March, this legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-
Restricting Secrecy Would Reduce Product Liability Cases Companies that are unable to hide behind secrecy agreements would be motivated to fix or recall dangerous products instead of waiting until more product related deaths and injuries occurred. Court secrecy enabled Mattel to hide dozens of Polly Pocket related injuries and two related deaths over a year and a half before the company finally issued a recall of the toys. In the late 1990s, defective Firestone tires caused at least 271 fatalities – most of which involved cases settled secretly. Firestone continued settling cases for at least three years before recalling 6.5 million defective tires. Hundreds of child sexual abuse cases involving clergy were also settled secretly for years before the Boston Globe revealed the extent of the problem in 2002. Earlier public disclosure of these incidents would have allowed individuals to protect themselves and avoid harmful injuries.