California Senate Passes “Public Right to Know Act”

California Senate Passes “Public Right to Know Act”

May 24, 2022

Contact: Lucy Sears, Communications Director

California Senate Passes “Public Right to Know Act”

SB 1149 Will Protect Californians From Life-Threatening Dangers Hidden By Secret Settlements and Other Legal Maneuvers

SACRAMENTO – Yesterday, the California State Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 1149 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva, which would protect the public’s right to know the facts about dangerous public hazards that are discovered during litigation.

Jointly sponsored by Consumer Reports and Public Justice, SB 1149—also known as the “Public Right to Know Act”— will do the following:

  • Create a presumption that no court order may conceal information about a defective product or environmental hazard that poses a danger to public health or safety unless the court finds that the public interest in disclosure is clearly outweighed by a specific and substantial need for secrecy.
  • Prohibit settlement agreements that restrict the disclosure of information about a defective product or environmental hazard that poses a danger to public health or safety, and make any provision in an agreement void as against public policy, and thus unenforceable.
  • Narrowly tailor its application to only information about a “danger to public health or safety” that is likely to cause “significant or substantial bodily injury or illness, or death.”

“Information about defects and hazards created by companies should never be hidden behind a veil of courthouse secrecy that can endanger the lives and safety of Californians,” Senator Leyva said.  “The public must have access to this vital information so that they can decide—for themselves—how they can protect themselves and their families from these defective products or toxic hazards.  It is unconscionable that any company would ever seek to keep critical information that can lead to injuries or even deaths from the public—and all because of their desire for keep making profits.  I thank my Senate colleagues that voted for SB 1149 today, as they are standing on the side of the public by helping to prevent future injuries or deaths.”

For decades, overly broad court protective orders have enabled companies to shield evidence of threats to public safety and other corporate wrongdoing. From malfunctioning car tires to addictive medication, the harm of keeping this information secret from the public can not only be devastating but even deadly. As a result, SB 1149 will save lives.

“For decades, settlement agreements, stipulations for court orders, and standing protective orders have hidden information that the public has the right to know,” said Professor Richard Zitrin. “Companies keep this information secret not because of legitimate trade secrets but to avoid accountability for their dangerous and defective products that harm the public.  Public access to court records is a necessary part of a transparent and fair court system that ensures justice for all.”

If SB 1149 is signed into law, California would join several other states that have enacted similar anti-secrecy laws, including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington.

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