New Legislation on Motor Vehicle Liability

2015 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 92 (AB 92) increases monetary fines, creates a new criminal penalty, and limits the types of damages that are recoverable in lawsuits that derive from car crashes for those who do not have automotive liability insurance. 

In March, Representatives Sanfelippo, Spiros, Weatherston, Tom Larson, Kapenga, and Jim Ott introduced AB 92 and the bill was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. On May 11th a substitute amendment was offered by Representatives Horlacher, Jarchow, Jacque, Kulp, and Sanfelippo.

Under current law, all motorists who drive on state highways are required to have automotive liability insurance (with a few exceptions). If the driver is stopped by the police and they do not have insurance for their vehicle, then they can be fined up to $500. Current law also requires that a driver have proof of insurance on their person or in their vehicle. A driver can be fined $10 for not having proof of insurance.

The original bill greatly increased the monetary fines for driving without insurance. For a first offense a driver would have been fined $1,000 – $5,000. For a subsequent offense within three years of the first one, a driver would be fined $2,500 – $7,500. If an uninsured driver injured someone, they would be fined $5,000 – $7,500, but if the driver knew they were uninsured then they would be fined at least $10,000 and be subject to a class I felony.

The original bill also changed financial responsibility rules. Under current law if a court files a judgment against a driver for more than $500 of damage to another’s property caused by operating their motor vehicle, then the driver’s license is suspended unless they prove “financial responsibility.” To prove financial responsibility the driver needs to show the Department of Transportation that they have adequate liability insurance or deposit $60,000 with the Department of Transportation, which the Department will keep until the judgment is paid. Under the original bill, drivers who are convicted of operating a motor vehicle without insurance must prove “financial responsibility” with the DOT for five years after the conviction or have their license suspended.

The largest change from current law in the original bill was that it prohibited uninsured drivers from recovering non-economic damages against an insured driver when involved in a car accident regardless of which driver was at fault.

The substitute amendment reduced the proposed increases in monetary fees. Under the amendment, a first offense of driving without liability insurance would be a $500-$750 fine; Causing bodily harm while driving without liability insurance would be a $1,000-$1,500 fine; And causing death while driving without liability insurance would be at least a $2,500 fine and a class H felony.

The financial responsibility language was retained from the original bill.

The substitute amendment does not mention limiting the types of damages that an uninsured driver can recover in a lawsuit concerning an accident with an insured driver.

A public hearing on the substitute amendment took place on May 14th.  An executive session on the bill in the Judiciary Committee has yet to be scheduled.