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Personal-injury lawyers on panel to hear testimony on civil-litigation bill 

A panel of lawmakers made up partly of personal-injury lawyers from both sides of the political aisle will be hearing public testimony on Thursday on a bill calling for various changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules.

Assembly Bill 773, sponsored by state Reps. Mark Born and John Nygren, proposes shrinking the state’s construction statute of repose, which is a defense contractors commonly invoke in personal-injury lawsuits alleging negligent design. The statute bars lawsuits involving injuries that occurred more than 10 years after a given construction project came to an end. Lawmakers are now trying to reduce that window to six years.

The bill also proposes repealing and replacing the state’s rule governing class-action lawsuits. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has already adopted a proposal from the Judicial Council to beef up the rule so that it would mirror its federal counterpart.

However, AB 773 differs from that version in two ways: It would add a fifth criteria that parties would have to meet to qualify for class certification, and it would allow immediate mandatory appeals of class-certification orders. Filing for an appeal of that sort would stay all proceedings in a case.

Opponents of the bill have said those changes would both make it tougher for plaintiffs to get class certification and allow defendants to stall litigation. Supporters have said their goal is to make the civil justice system fairer for all parties.

AB 773 also calls for making various changes to the state’s discovery rules, setting up a framework for regulating consumer-lawsuit financing and increasing the interest rate charged to insurers for overdue claims.

The bill is scheduled to go before the Assembly Committee on Judiciary at a hearing starting at 11 a.m. on Thursday in Room 300 North East in the state Capitol.

Some of the lawmakers hearing the bill are among those who are likely to be affected should the legislation become law. Of the committee’s nine members, six have law degrees and four practice personal-injury law.

Half of the personal-injury lawyers are Democrats. State Rep. Dana Wachs is a partner at Gingras, Cates & Wachs and works out of the firm’s office in Eau Claire. Wachs, who is also running for governor, is a member of the Wisconsin Association of Justice, an organization that represents plaintiffs’ attorneys, and has registered against the bill. The second Democrat, Rep. Gary Hebl, practices personal-injury law in addition to other areas of law at Sun Prairie-based Hebl, Hebl & Ripp.

The two Republicans are solo practitioners. Rep. Ron Tusler runs his own practice, Tusler Law Office, in Appleton, and Rep. Cody Horlacher recently opened his practice, Horlacher Law, in Mukwonago.

About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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