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Personal injury lawyers offer change to tort-reform bill

Two Republican lawmakers who are personal-injury lawyers are proposing an amendment that would scale back a so-called tort-reform bill.

The bill, Assembly Bill 773, sponsored by state Reps. Mark Born and John Nygren, both Republicans, proposes making various changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules. Among other things, it would modify the rules governing both electronic-discovery procedures and class-action lawsuits.

AB 773 also calls for setting up a system for regulating consumer-lawsuit financing and decreasing the interest rate charged to insurers for overdue claims.

On Monday, state Reps. Ron Tusler and Cody Horlacher, both personal injury lawyers and members of the Legislature’s Assembly Committee on Judiciary, introduced a substitute amendment that would make various changes to their colleagues’ bill.  Tusler runs his own practice, Tusler Law Office, in Appleton, and Rep. Cody Horlacher recently opened his practice, Horlacher Law, in Mukwonago.

The lawmakers’ proposed changes would:

  • Strike a provision that would change 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 10 years or more after a given construction project came to an end. The original version of the legislation had proposed reducing that window to six years.
  • Eliminate a provision that would repeal and replace the state’s class-action rule. The Wisconsin Supreme Court had already adopted a proposal from the Judicial Council to beef up the rule so it would mirror its federal counterpart. The original version of the bill would have added a fifth criteria that parties would have to meet to qualify for class certification, and would also have allowed immediate mandatory appeals of class-certification orders. Filing for an appeal of that sort would have stayed all proceedings in a case.
  • Decrease the interest rate insurance companies must pay on overdue claims from 12 percent to 10 percent. The original version had proposed decreasing it to whatever the prime rate is at a given moment plus one percentage point.

Travis Rhoades, defense lawyer at Crivello Carlson in Milwaukee, argued that the current interest rate on overdue claims is a burden on insurers and is a significant issue.

“(The amendment) doesn’t do a whole lot other than give the previous rate a minor haircut,” he said on Tuesday.

The original proposal to decrease the interest rate to the prime rate plus one was one provision that representatives of the Wisconsin Association for Justice had taken particular exception to during a hearing on the  bill earlier this month.

Rhoades also noted  that lawmakers are now looking to change AB 773’s provisions involving discovery procedures, in part by revising language that defines the scope of discovery. That revised language could be read as shifting certain burdens onto defendants, he said.

Should the amendment be adopted by the committee and adopted by the full Legislature, it would replace the original version of AB 773.  The committee has yet to schedule a vote on the bill.

Lawmakers in a different committee hear public testimony Tuesday on the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 645. No substitute amendment has been offered for that version.

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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