Protective Orders Hide Defective Product Hazards from Public
Posted on behalf of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Dec 10, 2015 in Product Liability
The abuse of protective orders in court cases has recently come under fire from legal ethics advocates. In a large number of defective product lawsuits, companies seek the orders to seal what they claim are trade secret records from the public. But this puts consumers at risk, since it hides critical information about product safety.
The problem has been associated with major product recalls, including the Takata air bag recall and General Motor’s faulty ignition switches. Both of these situations were preceded by civil suits where records were sealed. These records, if made public, could have warned people about these hazardous products, and prevented more deaths and injuries.
Protective orders are routinely issued by judges in product liability cases to seal records from the public. The orders are sought by companies who claim they are needed to protect their trade secrets. But more often, they are just used to obstruct fact finding during the discovery process.
This is just another example of discovery abuse that companies use to avoid accountability.
Laws That Restrict Protective Orders
The Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2014 was introduced in the U.S. Senate to prohibit the use of these orders if they would hide safety information from the public. Unfortunately, the bill was killed in committee thanks to aggressive corporate lobbying.
Similar anti-secrecy laws have been passed in 11 states: Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. California litigators have also proposed their own law to limit use of protective orders. However, these laws have limited effect since most product liability cases are handled in federal courts.
Another solution is to address the use of these orders from an ethics standpoint. Plaintiff attorneys should weigh the risks to the public when deciding to agree to protective orders. Sealing information about product safety that could help people avoid harm should be considered unethical.
Product liability lawyers are committed to seeking justice for their clients, and in protecting consumers from harm due to corporate negligence.
If you have been injured by a defective product, the attorneys at D’Amico & Pettinicchi can advise you of your legal rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.