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Assembly passes tort-reform bill (UPDATE)

The Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation on Thursday that would make a long list of changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules, sending it to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

Among other things, Assembly Bill 773 would modify the state’s construction statute of repose, which contractors commonly invoke as a defense in certain personal-injury lawsuits. The statute prevents injured plaintiffs from suing over negligent design for an injury that occurred more than 10 years after a project was substantially completed. A provision in AB 773 would shrink that window to seven years.

Also under the bill, insurers would see a decrease in the interest rate they must pay on overdue claims. The proposed change would lower the rate from 12 percent to 7.5 percent.

AB 773 would also make changes to the state’s rules of discovery.  That process can be burdensome and expensive for defendants, and the bill’s proponents say the changes could reduce legal costs for Wisconsin businesses.

The Assembly’s meeting this week came a month after Assembly lawmakers passed a slightly different version of the legislation during what they then said would be their last meeting of the current legislative session. Taking up the bill again on Thursday, lawmakers wasted little time, approving it on a voice vote. This time, though, they were approving a version that was identical to one that had also passed the Senate.

The amendment, now adopted by both chambers, was introduced by Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Republican from Racine who has been opposed to the bill. Wanggaard contended that one of the provisions in AB 773 relating to the preservation of electronically stored information would encourage parties to destroy information relevant to lawsuits that were in the midst of litigation. Wanggaard’s amendment stripped that provision from the bill.

Proponents of the bill, however, have contended that Wanggaard’s concerns are unwarranted, saying the provision simply mirrors current practice in federal courts and still requires businesses to retain emails and other electronic documents.

The changes in the bill would take effect after it is approved by the governor.

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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