The Judiciary Committee is considering the Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2009, designed to make it more difficult for companies to keep secret documents used in civil cases.
Under the bill, federal judges would be restricted from sealing documents or settlements without making specific factual findings that the secrecy order would not harm the public’s interest in disclosure of information relevant to health or safety.
According to testimony, "Tens of thousands of Americans, if not hundreds of thousands, have been killed or seriously injured by defective products that manufacturers are aware of, but the public is not," because they manage to seal sensitive documents in court.
"When you sue a manufacturer and request records, they insist on a protective order before they produce any internal documents that they assert are trade secret. Unfortunately, in the real world, manufacturers use this protection to cover all documents."
Public Justice, a group that fights to open court documents, also testified, "Much of the civil litigation in this country is taking place in secret."
"Through protective orders, secret settlements and sealed court records, the public courts are being used by private parties to hide smoking-gun evidence of wrong-doing."
To view the full transcript of testimony by Public Justice, please click here.