California is considering Senate Bill 1149 (SB 1149) or the Public Right to Know Act of 2022. If enacted, this law would dramatically increase the cost of litigation in defective product and environmental hazard actions by fundamentally changing consequences of discovery, slowing down the judicial process, and encouraging frivolous litigation. SB 1149 would threaten the privacy rights of consumers, employees and third parties, not to mention the attorneys’ ability to engage in zealous advocacy on behalf their clients.
The Proposed Law
Introduced by California State Senator Connie Leyva, SB 1149 specifically proposes to do the following:
- Prohibit settlement agreements that limit disclosure of factual information related to an action involving allegations of a defective product or environmental hazard that poses a danger to public health or safety.
- Establish a presumption against restricting public disclosure of discoverable factual information related to such actions via stipulation or order with the exception of 1. medical information or personal identifying information (PII) regarding a person allegedly injured by a defective product or environmental hazard; 2. the settlement amount; 3. information relating to a current proprietary customer list or a trade secret where the party seeking nondisclosure moves in good faith and demonstrates a specific and substantial overriding confidentiality interest that outweighs the public interest; and 4. citizenship or immigration status of any individual or group of individuals.
- Allow a person, including a news media representative, who is deemed reasonably foreseeable to be substantially affected by a nondisclosure provision, agreement or order, to challenge it.
- Allow professional discipline where an attorney 1. requests including in a settlement agreement a provision that prevents the disclosure of factual information related to the action; 2. advises a client to sign an agreement including such a provision; or 3. moves for a nondisclosure order without meeting the good faith requirement.
What This Means
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