A panel of lawmakers from the state Senate, including two lawyers, are scheduled to hear public testimony on Tuesday on a bill calling for a series of changes to Wisconsin’s tort laws.
Senate Bill 645, and its assembly counterpart, Assembly 773, would make various changes to the state’s discovery rules, set up a framework for regulating consumer-lawsuit financing, decrease the interest rate charged to insurers for unpaid overdue claims and pull back the deadline set by the construction statute of repose.
The statute of repose now shields builders and others involved in construction projects from lawsuits alleging negligent design if an injury occurs 10 years or more after those projects have been substantially completed. Lawmakers are proposing shrinking that window to 6 years.
The bills also propose 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. The new rule goes into effect July 1.
The council advises the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the state Legislature on changes to court system procedures and administration. Parts of the bill have been with resistance from individual members of the council. And the criticism is not coming solely from any one type of lawyer. Counsel for both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases are among the opponents.
Among the causes of opposition are provisions in SB 645 that would go beyond changes that the state Supreme Court recently made to Wisconsin’s class-action rule. Specifically, SB 645 would add a fifth criteria that plaintiffs would have to meet to get class certification, and would allow immediate, mandatory appeals of class-certification orders. Filing for an appeal of that sort would stay all proceedings in a case.
On Tuesday, SB 645 is scheduled to go before Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will hear testimony on various bills following an executive session starting at 10 a.m. The bill was originally scheduled to be heard in Room 411 South of the state Capitol but was later moved to Room 330 Southwest. SB 645 is one of 10 bills getting a hearing that day and is listed fourth on the committee’s agenda.
The chairman of the committee, Sen.Van Wanggaard, a Republican, is a member of the Judicial Council.
Only two lawmakers on the committee – Fred Risser and Lena Taylor, both Democrats – are lawyers. Taylor is a general-practice attorney and has worked on personal-injury, bankruptcy and child-custody cases. Risser does mostly probate work at his general practice. That differentiates the panel from its Assembly counterpart, on which six of the members are lawyers.
So far only two organizations have registered against the bill: the Wisconsin Association for Justices, which represents the state’s plaintiff’s attorneys; and the Alliance for Responsible Consumer Funding.
SB 645’s counterpart in the Assembly already had a public hearing before an panel of lawmakers earlier this month. That committee has yet to vote on whether it will give the bill a favorable recommendation..
Before either bill can become law, it still must first go before the full Legislature and then be signed by Gov. Scott Walker.Follow @erikastrebel