Gov. Walker, Wisconsin Legislature Receive National Accolades for Enacting Lawsuit Reforms

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) today came out with its annual Judicial Hellholes report, and instead of receiving negative scrutiny, Wisconsin received acclaims for the significant lawsuit reforms recently signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature.

Although ATRA’s Judicial Hellholes report is renowned for documenting abuses of the civil justice system in jurisdictions that are among the most unfair and out of balance in the nation, the report also highlights those jurisdictions and states where positive reforms are taking place.

“As anemic economic growth and high unemployment continue to plague much of the country, many governors and state legislators were determined to make their states more competitive and attractive to employers with a variety of tort reform measures,” said ATRA President Tiger Joyce.

“None were more successful than Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers in Wisconsin. They pushed a comprehensive civil justice reform package to enactment early in the year, before coming back for three more significant measures in a special session this fall,” added Joyce. In its “Points of Light” section (p. 38), the Judicial Hellholes report highlights Wisconsin as a leader when it comes to lawsuit reforms.

ATRA’s report summarizes the major provisions contained in Special Session Senate Bill 1, which was enacted into law as 2011 Wisconsin Act 2:

  • Adoption of more reasonable product liability standards for manufacturers and sellers.
  • Elimination of the deeply flawed “risk contribution” theory in manufacturing lawsuits.
  • Adoption of sound science principles (Daubert principles).
  • Limits on punitive damages at $200,000 or twice compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
  • Sanctions on frivolous lawsuits.

The Points of Light section in the report further notes that Gov. Walker and the Legislature didn’t stop there. In the fall of 2011, the Legislature passed into law three more bills introduced by Gov. Walker in his second special session focusing on job creation. The three new lawsuit reform bills include:

  • Interest on Judgments – Reduces interest on pre- and post-judgments awarded to plaintiffs (2011 Wisconsin Act 69).
  • Trespasser Liability – Protects landowners and land possessors from greater liability by prohibiting courts from expanding the duty of care owed to trespassers (2011 Wisconsin Act 93).
  • Limiting Attorney Fees – Creates certain criteria courts must consider when awarding attorney fees, and creates a rebuttable presumption that attorney fees can be no more than three times compensatory damages (2011 Wisconsin Act 92).

The Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, which supported these measures, commended ATRA for recognizing Wisconsin in its report. “Once again, Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature are being recognized as a national leader when it comes to lawsuit reforms,” said Bill G. Smith, Wisconsin Director of the National Federation of Independent Business and President of the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council.

“These positive reforms will enhance Wisconsin’s business climate by protecting employers from costly and meritless lawsuits,” added Smith.

To learn more, read ATRA’s Judicial Hellholes report.

The Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, Inc. (WCJC) was formed in 2009 to represent Wisconsin business interests on civil litigation legislation before the Wisconsin Legislature. Our goal is to achieve fairness and equity within our judicial system to reduce unnecessary litigation costs, and enhance Wisconsin’s image as a rewarding place to live and work. WCJC is a client of the Hamilton Consulting Group.