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California moves closer to ending dangerous “secret settlements” by passing the “Public Right to Know Act” in the Senate

Consumer Reports Urges the California Assembly to Support SB 1149

SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate voted Monday to pass SB 1149 – the “Public Right to Know Act” – authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) and co-sponsored by Consumer Reports and Public Justice. This legislation would allow people to learn the truth about defective products and environmental hazards that pose a danger to public health or safety, despite these dangers being regularly kept secret under lawsuit settlements that serve to protect companies over consumers. 

David Friedman, Vice President of Advocacy for Consumer Reports, said, “The Public Right to Know Act would put an end to unjust and dangerous secrecy in the legal system. Companies should never be able to abuse our courts to keep critical information about defective products and environmental hazards from the public. The California legislature must stand up for transparency and accountability, and stop these harmful ‘secret settlements.’ We applaud the Senate for its vote, and urge every Assemblymember to support the bill’s passage without delay. A vote in support of this bill can save a life.” 

As outlined by Senator Leyva, the “Public Right to Know Act” will achieve 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 such 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.”
  • Keep personal information and business trade secrets confidential. 

Consumer Reports is now calling on the Assembly to pass SB 1149 to remove the veil of secrecy that undermines public interest and exposes consumers to significant bodily injury, illness, or death. For decades, California courts have permitted, with minimal scrutiny, secret settlements between the parties in litigation that keep important health or safety information concealed. More recently, the courts have allowed for the unchecked use of stipulations for court orders and standing protective orders that similarly restrict disclosure of this information.

By putting an end to “secret settlements” California would empower California consumers with the information to make informed, safe, self-determined decisions when purchasing or using potentially defective or environmentally hazardous products. California would join several other states that have enacted similar anti-secrecy laws, including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington. 

Media Contact: Emily Akpan, emily.akpan@consumer.org