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Walker signs tort-reform bill (UPDATE)

Gov. Scott Walker was expected on Tuesday to sign legislation making a long list of changes to the state’s civil litigation rules.

Among the many changes, Assembly Bill 773 modifies 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 shrinks that window to seven years.

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

AB 773 will also make changes to the state’s rules of discovery, which lawyers use to gather facts that are relevant to their cases. Among other things, the changes would adopt a new scope-of-discovery provision that includes a proportionality requirement identical to the one found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The changes will also, except in instances when a court orders otherwise or the parties in a case stipulate otherwise, limit the number of depositions that can be taken to 10, each of which can  last no more than 7 hours. It will also limit the number of interrogatories to 25 and prevent parties from requesting records more than five years before a cause of action accrues. However, certain records will be exempt from that limit.

The legislation will also modify the state’s class-action rule. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has already revised the state’s rule to have it match its federal counterpart. AB 773 modifies what the justices had done previously by allowing for interlocutory appeals of class-certification orders that will stall all proceedings in a case, although courts will still be able to consider and weigh in on settlements reached between parties.

That modification to the class-action rule and the changes to the discovery rules will not take effect immediately now that the bill has been signed by Walker.  Those changes will instead take effect on July 1, when the rest of the class-action rule approved by the high court goes into effect.

This article was edited to indicate that changes to the discovery rules also will take effect July 1.

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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