A recent CNBC story highlights the danger in keeping defective product settlements confidential. Remington allegedly knew that its Model 700 rifle had a dangerous flaw in its design that could cause the rifle to fire without anyone pulling the trigger. After years of hiding the defect behind sealed settlements, one father fought to protect others from the tragedy his family suffered after losing their son.
The Gus Barber Anti-Secrecy Act
In a tragic accident in October 2000, 9-year old Gus Barber died when the Remington rifle his mother was unloading suddenly fired without her finger being near the trigger. The Barbers settled their lawsuit against Remington; however, Rich Barber did not stop pursuing the matter.
As part of the settlement, Remington agreed to develop a new trigger mechanism to correct the defect that caused the rifle to fire without anyone pulling the trigger. Barber worked with Remington as the company developed a new fire control to correct the defect. During this time, Barber discovered prior product liability cases involving rifles firing in the same manner. The cases had been settled by Remington and sealed. It is unknown how many deaths have been caused by Remington rifles because of sealed court settlements. Barber decided to do something about that.
Barber lobbied the Montana legislature to pass the Gus Barber Anti-Secrecy Act. The law prevents courts from sealing settlements using protective orders if the matter hides a hazard to public safety. Several states have similar orders; however, the problem has not been solved. Many defendants in product liability cases successfully petition to have settlements sealed.
Why Do Defendants Want Settlements Sealed in Product Liability Cases?
The main reason to have a settlement sealed is profit. If the public discovers a product is defective, people may stop buying the product which reduces profits. Furthermore, anyone injured by that product will file lawsuits against the company. Information in previous lawsuits regarding the defect such as expert testimony, documents, and other evidence may be accessed as a part of the public record. Sealing a settlement in a lawsuit prevents anyone from accessing the information in that lawsuit. The company does not need to worry about future victims using the information in the lawsuit against the company in another product liability claim.
However, sealing settlements can result in further injury and death. Remington is not the only company to pay victims and require the settlement be kept secret. Many people were injured because GM did not disclose the problem with their failing ignition switches and Toyota did not disclose problems with sudden acceleration in their vehicles. Both companies were aware of these problems because they had settled lawsuits and/or claims by victims; however, the settlements were kept secret so other families and victims were not aware of the dangerous defect.
As long as companies are permitted to keep settlements in product liability cases a secret, the public will continue to be at risk from defects known to companies.
Have You Been Injured by a Defective Product? Did The Manufacturer Know About the Hazards?
If you have been injured by a defective product or a family member has been injured or died due to a defective product, contact the product liability attorneys of The Olinde Firm. Contact our office for a free legal consultation. Even if you don’t believe the manufacturer withheld knowledge of a potential injury, you may be eligible for compensation.