New Push For Settlement Transparency on Capitol Hill

New Push For Settlement Transparency on Capitol Hill Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ. Richard Blumenthal.

Federal lawmakers have renewed legislation that would require judges to consider the public’s interest before agreeing to seal court records about products liability lawsuits with companies.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced the Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2014 in the Senate this month. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced a similar bill in the House in April.

Blumenthal and Graham introduced the bill in response to General Motors settlements related to liability lawsuits over the company’s faulty ignition switches. The legislation would have enabled people to be aware of the threats to safety posed by the faulty ignition switches and deaths could have been prevented, Blumenthal said in a written statement.

“Concealment can kill, and so can secret settlements,” Blumenthal said. “The courts must be stopped from complicity in hiding life-saving information. By sealing court records of lawsuit settlements that show serious safety defects, judges are aiding and abetting more deaths, injuries and danger.”

Senators have pushed bills with similar provisions on Capitol Hill since the early 1990s. The American Bar Association has opposed them as counter to the law that allows courts to determine their own rules. The ABA has also said the law would reduce access to the courts through the added expense of litigating whether the statute applies.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a version of the Sunshine in Litigation Act in 2011 but it did not reach the Senate floor, Blumenthal said.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com. On Twitter: @ToddRuger.

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