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Tort-reform bill may still have chance

Following the introduction of an amendment that would scale back proposed changes to discovery procedures, a bill that would overhaul various parts of the state’s civil-litigation rules is now scheduled to go before a Senate committee on Wednesday.

The bill recently appeared stalled in the state Senate, where a powerful Republican lawmaker had raised objections overs its provisions concerning discovery. By Tuesday, though, the legislation was scheduled for a hearing on the following day before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety at a meeting to start at 12:15 p.m. in Room 300 Southeast of the state Capitol.

Among other things, Assembly Bill 773 would make  changes to the state’s construction statute of repose, which contractors commonly invoke when defending themselves against personal-injury lawsuits alleging negligent design. The statute of repose bars lawsuits involving injuries that occurred more than 10 years after a given construction project had come to an end. AB 773 proposes reducing that window to seven years.

Separately, AB 773 would change the interest rate an insurer would have to pay for overdue insurance claims, lowering it from 12 percent to 7.5 percent. That interest rate applies to insurance claims not paid within 30 days after an insurer gets written notice of the facts and amounts involved.

Most importantly for some, the bill would also make various changes to the rules governing discovery and the production and retention of electronically stored information. State Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Republican from Racine and chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, has objected in particular to language concerning the preservation of electronic documents and records during discovery proceedings. The provision in question states that parties would not have to preserve certain electronically stored information unless a requesting party had a court order showing a “substantial need” for it.

The types of electronically stored information a party would not have to preserve include data that can’t be retrieved without substantial additional programming or without putting the data into another format before they can be retrieved and searched.

Wanggaard introduced an amendment on Monday that would strip out the discovery provision he finds objectionable. Should that proposed change be approved by both the Senate judiciary committee and the full Senate, the bill would still have to head back to the Assembly for that chamber’s approval.

Assembly leaders, however, have made no plans to return after meeting, on Feb. 22, for what they said would be the  last time during the current legislative session, although they have been talking to Gov. Scott Walker about possibly returning to pass certain of his priorities.

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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