California’s Public Right to Know Act
September 6, 2022
For too long, companies that have been sued over dangerous products have been able to hide information from the public through broad court orders and settlement agreements. Lawyers for businesses routinely ask courts to issue protective orders that prevent plaintiffs from disclosing information received during discovery, often insisting it as a condition of a settlement. Legislation pending in Sacramento, S.B. 1149, or the Public Right to Know Act, would greatly limit such secrecy. Although the law would protect the privacy of civil awards and trade secrets, it would prohibit any agreement between parties to a lawsuit from restricting the disclosure of information regarding a defective product or environmental hazard that “poses a danger to public health or safety,” and render such provisions void. A court could issue a protective order only by finding that the presumption in favor of disclosure is “clearly outweighed by a specific and substantial overriding confidentiality interest.” Opponents of the bill are concerned that there would be unlimited access to factual information revealed during discovery, and that private and confidential information would be disclosed. Legal Ops teams will want to follow the legislation’s progress as the act would affect both privacy and litigation.
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