2011 Special Session Legal Reforms

On January 27, 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed into law Special Session Senate Bill 1, which contains numerous civil liability reforms (see 2011 Wisconsin Act 2). To view WisconsinEye’s video coverage of the bill signing ceremony, click here. To see photos from the ceremony, click here.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 57-38, along party lines on January 20, 2011. The Assembly adopted the Senate version without any amendments. Numerous amendments were proposed attempting to weaken the bill, but every amendment was rejected.

The bill is the first piece of legislation signed into law in Governor Walker’s Special Session focusing on jobs. Below is an outline of some issues contained in the legislation. For a summary of the Act, click here.

  • Product Liability – Requires proof of a “reasonable alternative design” in an alleged defective design of a product, moving Wisconsin away from the broad “consumer expectation” test.
  • Expert Opinion (Daubert) – Limits testimony of experts and evidence to that which is based on sufficient facts or data and is the product of reliable principles and methods.
  • Risk Contribution (Thomas v. Mallett) – Overturns the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 2005 decision, Thomas v. Mallett, where the court adopted the deeply flawed “risk contribution” theory in cases involving lead-based paint. Wisconsin is the only state in the country to have adopted this theory. The court’s decision led the Wall Street Journal to pen an editorial describing Wisconsin’s litigation climate as “Alabama North.” (August 9, 2005)
  • Caps on Punitive Damages – The Senate and Assembly amended the bill to keep in place the existing standard for determining punitive damages but then set a cap on punitive damages at $200,000 or two times compensatory damages, whichever is greater. While WCJC supported the amendment, it had concerns with the language that exempts the caps from drunk driving cases.
  • Quality Improvement Act – The QIA updates the outdated health care peer review statute, encouraging medical providers to work together to improve the quality and efficiency of care. The bill addresses specific court decisions that have discouraged this type of work. Also makes consistent the administrative and criminal codes for abuse and neglect.
  • Frivolous Lawsuits – A party may be liable for costs and fees for bringing a lawsuit or claim that is done solely for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring another party.
  • Caps on Noneconomic Damages for Long-term Health Care Providers – Places limits on noneconomic damages for long-term care providers ($750,000).


Wisconsin Civil Justice Council supported the amendments in Special Session SB 1/AB 1 that would:

  • Remove retroactive application the civil action provisions.
  • Clarify that the Daubert provisions are to be identical to those comparable provisions in Federal Rules of Evidence 702.
  • Delete provisions setting forth new standards for the application of punitive damages and adding caps on punitive damages.

The Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 11, on Special Session Assembly Bill 1.

Links to Special Session Documents:

Press Coverage of the January 2011 Special Session Legal Reforms

WCJC Press Releases

WCJC Honors Sen. Rich Zipperer and Rep. Jim Ott for Commitment to Lawsuit Reforms: WCJC Press Release, Dec. 2011

Gov. Walker, Wisconsin Legislature Receive National Accolades for Enacting Lawsuit Reforms: WCJC Press Release, Dec. 2011

Walker Keeps Pledge, Reforms Lawsuits: WCJC Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011.

Legal Reforms Mean Business for Wisconsin: WCJC Press Release, Jan. 20, 2011. Legislature Passes First Walker Jobs Bill.

Governor-elect Walker’s Civil Liability Reforms Send a Strong Signal to Employers: WCJC Press Release, Jan. 4, 2011. Tort Reforms Place Wisconsin Back In the Mainstream.

WCJC & Friends Media Events

Governor Walker Signs Landmark Legal Reforms