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May 20, 2014

Sunshine in Litigation Act Would Improve Public Access to Information About Dangerous Products

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen

Note: Today, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the bipartisan Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2014, which would require courts to consider whether public health and safety are at risk when they receive a request for a protective order or an order to seal court records or settlement agreements.

Public Citizen is thrilled that U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the bipartisan Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2014, which will help limit court-endorsed secrecy in cases that involve critical safety information.

In numerous cases, court-approved protective orders and sealed settlements have kept the public in the dark about products that pose risks to public health and safety. The General Motors (GM) scandal is a perfect recent example: The information about GM’s defective ignition switches and air bag failures, along with the injuries and deaths associated with them, was hidden from the public in confidential settlements.

As a result of secret settlements and court orders to keep information confidential, the public and regulators are often left in the dark about risks to public health and safety. Secrecy orders have prevented the timely release of critical health and safety information in wide-ranging cases including breast implants, asbestos, heart valves, tires, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, children’s products, cars, toys and motorcycle helmets.

This bill is an important step that would provide access to information that could potentially save lives and ensure disclosure of essential facts about products and services in the marketplace.

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