Information About Harmful Products Should Be Available to Consumers, Safety Advocates, Media
Public Citizen Urges Assembly to Reject AB 881
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Information about defective products should be widely available to consumers, reporters and safety advocates, as well as regulators, Public Citizen told state lawmakers today.
In testimony presented to the state Assembly?s Judiciary Committee, Jane Kelly, director of Public Citizen?s California office, urged lawmakers to reject a proposed measure (AB 881) that would severely limit the availability of information to the public about harmful products that is gathered during court cases.
Judges typically seal many documents containing information about defects that are uncovered during litigation. Under the bill, any regulators could get the information, but they would not be permitted to share it with the public or the media unless they were to seek court permission to lift the protective order, which is highly unlikely.
Not only do consumers have a right to know about products that may harm them, but safety advocates and the media play a critical role in prodding government regulators to address dangers, Kelly said.
“Some have suggested that regulatory agencies alone are sufficient to guarantee public safety,” Kelly said. “This is not the case. Regulators do not have the resources to investigate every product defect. Moreover, although many businesses are required to report hazard information to regulators, they sometimes fail to do so. . . . often regulatory agencies need to be prodded with publicity before they?ll commit the necessary resources to investigate. This bill would assure that key documents remain locked up in regulatory agency files.”
Courts can play a critical role in providing early warning of public hazards, but often, courts seal litigation documents that could save lives, and the gag order is never removed, Kelly said. For instance, documents about defects in Firestone tires were buried for years because courts had sealed them. Had they been made public at the time, more than 200 people may have lived and more than 700 could have avoided injuries in crashes involving Firestone tires. In comparison, state attorneys general insisted tobacco company documents be made public in the tobacco settlement, which greatly enhanced public debate about tobacco, Kelly said.
Kelly urged lawmakers to reject the bill and rewrite it. Click here to view a copy of her testimony.