What if the medication your doctor prescribed you was known to cause life long diabetes? Would you want to know?
What if the contact lens solution you use everyday caused a known blinding fungus infection? Would you want to know?
What if your car tire had a known safety defect that caused deadly rollover crashes? Would you want to know?
You may never know the details of these as well as numerous other dangerous products still on the market due to a loophole in our legal system called court secrecy. Court secrecy, invoked in countless legal settlements and over reaching protective orders, prevents people from finding out about known product defects.
Corporations have used secrecy agreements to hide the dangers of everyday products from collapsing baby cribs, hazardous toys and defective car tires to prescription drugs. A bill currently in Congress would correct the problem of court enforced secrecy and compel companies to disclose product defects, ensuring the public is aware of vital, life-saving information.
Secrecy in the courts has deadly consequences. A Desert Morning News story details how for nearly a decade, documents have remained sealed in court records, which could have prevented a deadly 2005 crash which killed eight Utah State University students. The students were killed when the rear tire in the van they were riding in separated, causing the vehicle to rollover and land at the bottom of a 50-foot ravine.
The attorney representing the families of the Utah crash victims testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee that a 2000 memo by Cooper Tires exposed, how because of cost considerations, the company did away with the basic safety feature that would have prevented the deadly tire separation. The internal company memo did not become public until 2007, two years after the fatal Utah crash, while scores of company documents detailing the extent of the problem still remain secret.
The testimony was part of a hearing on the Sunshine in Litigation Act. The bill would grant federal judges additional discretion to decide whether a secrecy agreement impacts public health and safety. Limiting secrecy in our civil justice will help prevent more people from being injured and killed by known defective products.