When it comes to defective products and business practices or errors that lead to dangerous conditions, consumers deserve transparency. However, all too often, corporations use sealed settlement agreements and protective orders to cover up evidence of consumer health and safety risks. To shed light on these secret settlements, last week, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen – along with Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Bonds, Gray, Henderson, Lewis George, and Robert White – introduced legislation to protect consumers’ health and safety by improving transparency in legal proceedings related to defective products, dangerous environmental conditions, and other matters that pose serious risks to the public.
For example, these settlement confidentiality clauses and protective orders have allowed drug makers and pharmaceutical companies to market opioids and other painkillers as safe during the opioid epidemic, car manufacturers to continue to sell cars that were lethal in crashes and rollovers, and gun manufacturers to knowingly sell defective guns. The Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2023 will combat this court-sanctioned secrecy by prohibiting parties and courts from keeping information related to a defective product or environmental condition hidden through the use of sealed settlement agreements or protective orders.
“We can't allow big businesses to profit from covering up public hazards,” said Councilmember Allen. “Settlements are important tools to write wrongs to victims, but that shouldn’t outweigh the public’s interest in transparency about defective products and environmental conditions that have or would cause significant bodily injury, illness, or death. I look forward to this bill receiving a hearing and vote in the Judiciary Committee this fall.”
Leah Nicholls, the Director of the Access to Justice Project at Public Justice, said about the bill, “Secrecy in litigation causes real and sometimes fatal harm. We hope the DC Council will not allow corporations to use the court system to prevent the public from learning about the dangers of their products, and Public Justice strongly supports this legislation.”
The bill is also supported by the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington DC, which said, “The Sunshine in Litigation Act will bring dangerous products and corporate negligence out of the shadows. It will provide the public with needed information to avoid dangers and hazards that are often covered up by court orders and confidentiality agreements. The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, DC believes this bill sends a strong message that the public good is of the utmost importance and reinforces the value of the public record to shine a light on misconduct.”