New York Superior Court Denies Motion to Seal Documents in Product Liability Action in the Interest of Public Policy

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Two parents sued Graco after their child died due to an alleged defect in a Graco stroller. The parties negotiated a settlement that contained a confidentiality agreement, and the plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion to seal with the court.

While acknowledging the propriety of confidentiality of court proceedings under limited circumstances, the court noted that the inquiry into whether to seal the documents required the court to “balance the competing interests of the parties, the public and the justice systems.”

The court reasoned that, because it is in the public interest to discourage the marketing of dangerously defective products to the public, courts must view product liability cases “in an entirely different lens than instances involving other controversies.”

“Indeed, the promulgation of Rule §216.1[a] was in response to concerns that ‘…had been widely expressed about the practice of sealing records of settlements in product liability and other tort actions where the information might alert other consumers to potential defects.’” [Citing, among other sources, R. Herman, “No More Dirty Little Secrets in the Courts” Wash. Post, Sept. 15, 1989, at A31, col.6.]

Ultimately, the court found that “there is a strong public interest in a lawsuit involving the death of a child allegedly caused by a defective baby stroller.” Because the parties’ interest in keeping the documents sealed did not outweigh the public interest in keeping them open, the court held that there was not good cause and denied the motion.

Guardino v. Graco Children’s Products, Inc., 19 N.Y.S.3d 876 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2015).

See also, e.g., “Too Many Sealed Documents” by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge, Gregg Costa, published in the National Law Journal (Feb. 15, 2016).

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