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Panel OKs tort-reform bill, sends it to Assembly

A bill that would make a long series of changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules could go before the state Assembly for a vote on Thursday, the last day lawmakers in that chamber plan to meet this session.

Assembly Bill 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 more than 10 years after those projects have been substantially completed. An amended version of the bill would now change that to seven years, rather than the originally proposed six.

However, one of the bill’s authors, state Rep. Mark Born, proposed an amendment on Monday that would strip out parts of the bill involving consumer-lawsuit financing and make these other changes:

  • Change the interest rate charged on overdue insurance claims from the current 12 percent to 7.5 percent. The original version of the proposal had instead called for the interest rate to be set at the prime rate plus one percentage point.
  • Repeal a provision of the new class-action rule adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in December and replace it with language requiring the Court of Appeals to hear appeals of orders granting or denying class-certification if the appeals were filed within 14 days of the orders. The granting of such an appeal would stay all discovery and other proceedings, although courts could still consider any settlements reached by the parties.

The amendment keeps most of the original bill’s proposals involving electronically stored information and discovery, including provisions that would limit discovery requests to five years before the accrual of a cause of action.

Earlier this week, AB 773’s chances of passing this session appeared bleak. The bill still had not yet been scheduled on Monday morning for a vote in either the Assembly Committee on Judiciary or the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. But later that same day, the bill was scheduled for a vote Tuesday evening, and the panel voted 6-3 to recommend adoption of a version containing Born’s proposed amendments.

The bill’s next stop is a vote on the full Assembly floor.  Should it be passed there, AB 773 would still need to be voted on by the full Senate and signed by Gov. Scott Walker to become law.

About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

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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