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Friday, May 16, 2014

Safety over Secrecy Act Introduced

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has introduced legislation to protect the health and safety of American citizens by limiting the ability of big corporations to demand that plaintiffs remain silent about their experiences as a condition of settling their disputes.  Currently, for example, natural gas companies facing lawsuits from citizens who claim their water has been contaminated by the extraction process can require citizens to keep details of their cases secret in exchange for a cash settlement.
Whitehouse’s bill, the Safety over Secrecy Act (S. 2317), could help to limit the use of confidentiality agreements in cases involving hazards to public health and safety.

“While confidentiality agreements can be useful tools to protect sensitive information and trade secrets, too often they are used to hide important safety concerns from regulators, policymakers, the news media, public health experts, and the general public,” Whitehouse said in a prepared statement submitted to the Congressional Record.  “Under current law, judges are not specifically required to consider the public interest when determining the enforceability of confidentiality agreements.  In cases involving hazards to public health and safety—and only in those cases—this bill would change that, and would require judges to balance a party’s specific interest in confidentiality against the public interest in disclosure of information when approving or enforcing confidentiality agreements.”

The full text of Whitehouse’s Congressional Record statement is at http://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/news/release/sen-whitehouse-bill-protects-public-health-by-ending-secrecy-in-certain-civil-settlements