Wisconsin’s Lawsuit Climate Ranking Increases Thanks to Tort Reforms Enacted in 2011-12

Wisconsin moved up seven spots, from No. 22 to No. 15, in the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s latest lawsuit climate study: 2012 State Liability Systems Survey, Lawsuit Climate: Ranking the States.[1] The survey of over 1100 corporate attorneys and executives focused on a number of criteria, including each state’s overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action lawsuits, damages, and judges’ impartiality.

“Thanks to the significant tort reforms enacted during last session by the Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s litigation climate has improved and the state is a better place to do business,” said Bill G. Smith, President of the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council (WCJC) and Wisconsin Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

The first bill introduced was comprehensive tort reform legislation, which eventually became 2011 Wisconsin Act 2. The legislation brought Wisconsin back into the mainstream and overturned a number of negative decisions issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the 2005-06 term. During Gov. Walker’s second special session in the fall of 2011, the Legislature enacted three more substantive tort reforms.[2]

“A state’s overall litigation climate is very important to companies when deciding where to locate or expand their businesses,” said James Buchen, WCJC Vice President and Senior Vice President of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. “The substantive tort reforms passed into law during the 2011-12 session clearly enhanced Wisconsin’s reputation as a place to do business,” added Buchen.

Seventy percent of the corporate attorneys and executives who responded to the U.S. Chamber’s survey said that a state’s litigation environment is likely to impact important business decisions, such as where to locate or do business.

“Wisconsin has made important strides when it comes to its litigation climate,” said Smith. “We commend the Legislature and Gov. Walker for their efforts last session, but we believe we can further improve Wisconsin’s litigation climate with additional reforms,” added Smith. A few of the major reforms enacted in the 2011-12 session included:

  • Changes to the state’s product liability laws,
  • Reducing out of control punitive damage awards,
  • Increasing reliability of scientific and technical evidence during trials, and
  • Overturning a 2005 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision (Thomas v. Mallet) that allowed plaintiff attorneys to sue paint companies without having to prove that they actually manufactured the product.

This post origionally appeared on the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council’s blog.


[1] http://www.instituteforlegalreform.com/states#

[2] 2011 Wisconsin Act 69 (reducing interest on pre- and post-judgments); 2011 Wisconsin Act 92 (setting reasonable attorney fees); 2011 Wisconsin Act 93 (trespasser liability).