Over the past two decades, Bayer’s Essure – a non-surgical birth control device – has seriously injured thousands of women when pieces of metal coils shattered, leaving shards in the women’s reproductive system.
These Essure implants have caused miscarriages and punctured organs – and even the inability to have sex. Worse, despite more than 27,000 women’s lawsuits against Bayer, a broad court “protective order” favored secrecy over public disclosure.
Finally, in 2020, Public Justice, a nonprofit legal defense organization, stepped in and released some of the information. By then, there had been tens of thousands of serious injuries and at least 23 adult deaths verified by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Although Bayer finally stopped selling Essure a few years ago, it was too late for the women killed or permanently injured by this product – and all because Bayer used legal maneuvers to keep the public from knowing the dangers of his product so that he can continue to sell Essure across the country.
Unfortunately, Essure-related injuries and fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg.
For years, some companies have worked hard to hide vital security information so they can continue to make a profit. Earlier this year, I introduced Senate Bill 1149 — the “Public Right to Know Act” — with Public Justice and Consumer Reports as co-sponsors. This bill will put an end to abuses that conceal information about a defective product or an environmental hazard and that present a danger to public health or safety.
As just one more example of many, Purdue Pharma – the maker of OxyContin – used legal ploys to prevent the truth about its opioids from becoming public. The powerful prescription painkiller is now known to have caused well over 100,000 deaths as a result of outright lies from its manufacturer about safe dosage levels and the likelihood of addiction.
In late 2019, facing state claims totaling over $2 trillion, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy. But in 2004, when the first case – West Virginia’s claims against Purdue Pharma – was settled, the judge allowed the information proving those claims to remain secret. More than a dozen judges in other cases have followed the same course.
The result was that the facts remained hidden for more than a decade, until the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report following its review of dozens of internal company documents in 2016. there, neither the public nor regulators knew the truth, which was in court records but had been sealed by an overly broad confidentiality order.
Clearly, we need to remove these walls of secrecy from courthouses that endanger the lives of the public and the people we love.
It’s no surprise that a number of companies and trade associations oppose SB 1149 because they’d rather inflate their results than help protect the public from the very dangers it creates. Information about dangerous public hazards should never be hidden behind legal documents and courthouse secrecy – quite the contrary. The public has a right to know information about defective products or environmental hazards that companies become aware of, but choose to keep secret so they can carry on business as usual.
The premise of SB 1149 is simple: if a lawsuit reveals factual information about a defective product or an environmental hazard, that information will no longer be secret. This important step will help hold businesses accountable and prevent future injuries or fatalities. We must finally lift the veil of the courthouse secrecy that has hurt countless children and families across the Golden State.
Please let your legislative representative know by phone, Twitter or any other means that you strongly support SB 1149 and want California to join states across the country – including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina and Washington – which have already passed anti-secrecy laws.
Connie M. Leyva, a Democrat from Chino, represents the 20th Senate District in the California Legislature. Distributed by CalMatters.org.