Court Secrecy

Irresponsible corporations have found a way to keep dangerous products on the market and continue to profit while Americans’ health and safety are threatened.  These corporations and manufacturers use secrecy agreements in litigation to hide their wrongdoing and avoid responsibility when their products have harmed, injured or even killed Americans.

As a condition to turning over any material to injured consumers and their attorneys, manufacturers of faulty products regularly insist the information be kept secret– even if the product remains on the market and the information could warn the public of a potential health hazard.

Whether it’s dangerous cribs, defective drugs or exploding tires, court secrecy endangers consumers and allows corporations to hide wrongdoing.  Americans have a right to know about hazardous and defective products.

At least 20 states have recognized this problem and improved regulation of court secrecy.  Florida and Montana have taken the lead by requiring disclosure of public hazards.  But there is still more work to be done.

The Facts:

  • 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.  Each case could potentially be hiding another dangerous product or a pattern of negligent conduct.  [Federal Judicial Center]
  • Court secrecy enabled Mattel to hide dozens of Polly Pocket-related injuries and two deaths over a year-and-a-half before the company finally issued a recall of the toys.  [Boston College]
  • 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.  [The New York Times]

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