DearColleague.us

Letter

From: The Honorable Jerrold Nadler
Sent By: david.greengrass@mail.house.gov
Bill: H.R. 2336
Date: 6/30/2015

Cosponsor H.R. 2336, The Sunshine in Litigation Act
Supported by: Alliance for Justice, Center for Justice and Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Kids in Danger, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Dear Colleague:
Please join me as a cosponsor of the Sunshine in Litigation Act, H.R. 2336, which would prevent companies from entering into secret settlements concealing evidence of wrongdoing that puts our public health and safety at risk. It has the support of the Alliance for Justice, the Center for Justice and Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, the Consumers Union, Kids in Danger, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
The peril of concealing essential safety information from the public was all too apparent during last year’s recall of faulty ignition switches in cars made by General Motors. As far back as 2005, GM entered into settlements with victims about the defects in their cars that prevented information about these defects from becoming public, or being disclosed to state and federal regulators. If it were not for these secret settlements, action could have been taken to improve the safety of these vehicles. Instead, GM has already approved its 100th death claim due to the faulty ignition, a grim milestone, and more claims continue to be approved. Sadly, this sort of cover-up is all too common.
Through secret settlements, corporations conceal the facts surrounding their misdeeds from the public and from government agencies charged with enforcing health and safety laws. Current rules governing federal court practice make it too easy for defendants subject to lawsuits to hide information from the public. Big corporations and manufacturers use protective orders to broadly shield vast amounts of information, vital to health and safety, from public scrutiny. Defendants also require, as part of settlement agreements, that documents or other records revealing critical dangers uncovered during litigation be kept secret.
Powerful litigants have used these tactics time and time again to protect their bottom line at the expense of the lives and well-being of innocent men, women, and children. For example:
In July 2002, a victim died due to an accident allegedly caused by defective Cooper Tires. In a lawsuit over that injury, it was revealed that Cooper Tires had been sued before and used protective orders to hide information about tire defects. The settlement in that case similarly required that the litigation documents were kept secret, and there is currently no access to those documents.
Eli Lilly settled litigation in 2005 regarding dangerous side-effects of its drug, Zyprexa. The settlement required all of Eli Lilly’s discovery documents to be returned to it and blocked parties from discussing the case. The public did not learn about the drug’s dangers until two years later, when they were exposed by the New York Times.
The Sunshine in Litigation Act would take a reasonable approach to ending these disturbing practices. To approve certain protective orders or settlement agreements, it would require a court to find that provisions which restrict information disclosure would not affect that which is “relevant to the protection of public health or safety.” If the provisions in question would shield such information, to approve the protective orders or settlement agreement the court would have to find that there is “a specific and substantial interest” in keeping said information secret that outweighs the public interest and that the order in question is no broader than necessary. The bill also would prevent courts from enforcing provisions of settlement agreements which bar the disclosure of certain terms or discussion of aspects in the case relating to public health and safety unless, similarly, a court finds the interest in keeping the information secret outweighs the public’s need to know. These rules would apply only when the operative pleadings make clear a case involves health and safety issues.
More openness clearly will benefit our collective safety. Help promote such transparency and enable the public to make better informed decisions about products and services in the marketplace by cosponsoring the Sunshine in Litigation Act. To cosponsor this legislation, or if you have any questions, please contact David Greengrass in my office at david.greengrass@mail.house.gov.
Sincerely,
/s
Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress