Nevada senator pushes bill to block secret settlements

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus urged a key Nevada Senate panel Thursday to back a bill ensuring Nevadans get details of secret court settlements involving public hazards.

Titus, D-Las Vegas, pressed for approval of SB251, a "sunshine in litigation" measure that's similar to a proposal that died in 2001. Titus also tried unsuccessfully to get the proposal passed in 1991.

In both of the earlier cases, the measures ran into strong opposition from powerful business interests.

"We have seen all too often recently that when corporations are allowed to keep their actions secret from the public ... lives can be devastated and people can be injured or killed," Titus said.

"Do what's in the best interests of the people of Nevada and lift that veil of secrecy."

Kent Lauer of the Nevada Press Association also backed SB251, saying courts "should not be used to sacrifice the public's well being in favor of private interests."

"Fortunately, there has been a movement to ban secret settlements that conceal hazards -- and Nevada needs to join that movement," Lauer said. Similar legislation has been passed or is being considered in 17 other states.

Also favoring the bill were representatives of the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association. "What we're weighing here is the public interest and the right to know" about dangerous products, said the NTLA's Matthew Sharp.

The advocates cited numerous examples of sealed settlements, ranging from asbestos to the Firestone tire case, that could lead to deaths and serious injuries because of court-ordered confidentiality agreements.

Proponents also argued such legislation would save money and lives by forcing companies to deal with such hazardous problems before letting them get out of control -- as the Firestone case has done.

Critics included John Sande, representing Pfizer Pharmaceuticals; Sam McMullen, representing the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce; Mary Lau of the Retail Association of Nevada; and Ray Bacon of the Nevada Manufacturers Association.

The opponents said the legislation would discourage settlements by making them public, and confidential settlements are in the best interest of both companies and individuals.

"We think the way it currently works is adequate," said McMullen, adding, "We'd like to keep it the way it is."

The critics also have said some unscrupulous lawyers "shop" lawsuits by finding past settlements, and information that becomes public in one case could be used in later lawsuits against companies as an admission of guilt.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment