When a company makes a defective product, it should be held accountable for the resulting damages. It should also recall the product once the defect becomes apparent, removing it from the shelves before more people get hurt. Unfortunately, in my years as a personal injury attorney, I have seen companies wait to recall products or not pull dangerous products from shelves at all.
When these companies are sued, they often make confidentiality a condition of the settlement. This type of court secrecy can be very dangerous. According to a recent CNBC article, confidential settlements make it harder for the public to find out about dangerous products, and makes it harder for victims injured by defective products to get justice.
Why Court Secrecy is Dangerous in Defective Product Cases
To illustrate the problems with secrecy in the civil justice system, CNBC used the example of a defect in a Remington Model 700 Rifle. The Model 700 rifle could fire even though no one pulled the trigger. Deaths and injuries occurred as a result of this problem, and Remington was sued repeatedly. Each time the company was sued, it would settle the case, pay the victims, and require the settlement be kept secret.
Many other companies have also kept problems with products secret. GM failed to disclose problems with failing ignition switches and Toyota failed to disclose problems with sudden acceleration. Like with Remington, these companies knew of the dangers, settled cases when people were hurt or killed by product defects, and took no action to alert the public.
Companies settle and keep product defects secret because doing so helps them maximize profits and minimize the risk of litigation. If court records are sealed and case settlements are confidential, other victims may not be aware there is a defective product and may not know they can sue for damages when they are hurt. Confidential settlements also make it harder for subsequent victims to sue because they do not have access to evidence used in the prior case.
Each victim who brings a case will need to spend time and money recreating already existing evidence proving the product is defective and likely to cause injuries. In addition to causing accident victims to spend resources trying to prove what others already know is a problem, this repetitive discovery does not guarantee equal justice to all victims.
Why Do Defective Product Victims Agree to a Confidential Settlement?
Even though secret settlements can be harmful to the public, victims often agree to them. They do this because companies offer generous settlements or because companies offer to give up information about the defect only on the condition of confidentiality. Victims must often choose between accepting a substantial settlement that will compensate them for losses or fighting for the right of the public to know the truth about dangerous products. Few people who have been injured can afford to turn down a settlement, or want to go through the stress of fighting a defendant who has already agreed to pay. Victims are faced with the choice of spending years trying to prove a case or getting the information they need right away in exchange for silence.
When a plaintiff and defendant agree to a settlement that requires confidentiality, judges will usually accept it even though they aren’t supposed to order secrecy unless there is a “good cause” to do so. Many judges believe their role is to resolve disputes, and when the parties have agreed to a secret settlement, judges rarely see a problem with letting the parties do what they agreed to.
As CNBC points out, however, secrecy causes a number of moral problems such as making it harder for other victims to prove their cases, threatening public safety, and undermining system of justice and principles of democracy. The justice system ends up being used to hide the truth, and people end up suffering injuries and deaths because of undisclosed problems with defective products.
How Can a Long Beach Personal Injury Attorney Help?
Your Injuries are Personal to Me
When you are injured by a defective product, you should take action to get compensated and ensure the product manufacturer is held accountable. Your injuries are personal to me, so I will handle every aspect of your case until your claim is resolved.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at 888-394-1174 or use the convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation to speak with a Long Beach personal injury attorney to learn how I can help you if you’ve suffered a car accident injury.
You will be under no obligation and you will never pay any money unless you recover compensation for your losses.
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