GM Claims to Protect Trade Secrets; Victims Fight to Protect Consumers
The Texas Supreme Court decided almost 30 years ago that attorneys could share information gathered in automobile defect cases. The issue has come before the court several times when large corporations sought to restrict the rights of plaintiffs' legal teams to share information. However, in each case, the case has settled before the Texas Supreme Court could affirm the precedent case law. The issue is likely to be before the court in the near future, according to an article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. Which way will the court rule?
GM Defect Lead To Original Precedent
The case law was established in a 1987 ruling regarding another GM defect. In that case, Manuel Garcia sued GM for an auto defect responsible for the deaths of his wife and son. A car rear-ended their GM Buick, which then burst into flames. Garcia alleged that the Buick's fuel system was defective.
Garcia's attorneys realized that the information they received through discovery would be useful to other lawyers who were pursuing similar claims. GM won the right to bar sharing of the information at the lower court level, a decision the Texas Supreme Court overturned.
Under the ruling, plaintiffs' attorneys are permitted to share information while protecting the corporation's trade secrets. This allowed attorneys to cut costs and to discuss strategies, and thereby help to equal the playing field when litigating against huge corporations.
GM Again Attempts to Restrict Information Sharing
In 2010, Elias Bolaños and his coworker were driving back from a job site in a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. The driver fell asleep at the wheel while travelling 80 mph and lost control of the vehicle. The pickup truck rolled several times and came to rest on its roof. The cab's roof was caved in to the level of the truck's hood; His autopsy revealed that Bolaños suffocated to death but had not suffered any other life-threatening injuries.
Bolaños's family sued GM, alleging that a defect in the pick-up truck's design was to blame for the roof collapse. During discovery, plaintiffs' attorneys sought the design data. The automaker claimed this information was proprietary and attempted to impose restrictions, including the return of the documents to GM and prohibition against sharing the data with other lawyers. GM was poised to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, but settled when their motives were questioned amidst growing safety controversies.
Why the Right to Share Information is Important
Corporations often rely upon trade secret law to avoid disclosing incriminating information to plaintiffs. Unfortunately, the current atmosphere of the court is to protect trade secrets at a high cost to plaintiffs.
Under the existing law, attorneys can compare notes, which forces the corporation to comply with discovery rules. The cost of pursuing justice is reduced for plaintiffs who would otherwise have difficulty engaging in expensive litigation related to corporate negligence and product defects.
Will the Supreme Court decide to hear a case like this on appeal and if so, what will be the results? The original ruling was made when all nine members of the Supreme Court were Democrats; now they are Republicans with long records of deciding cases in favor of big businesses and insurance companies. The court has indicated that it is ready to hear an appeal and the timing is right for corporate giants to finally get their way, to the detriment of car wreck victims and the public at large.