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- Quality Improvement Act – The QIA updates the outdated health care peer review statute, encouraging medical providers to work together to improve the quality and efficiency of care.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).
- Product Liability Fact Sheet
- Risk Contribution Fact Sheet
- Expert Opinion (Daubert) Fact Sheet
- Punitive Damages Fact Sheet
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:
- Special Session Legal Reforms Bill
- Executive Order Calling for Session
- Governor Walker Press Release
Press Coverage of the January 2011 Special Session Legal Reforms
- Walker Keeps Pledge, Reforms Lawsuits: WCJC Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011.
- WMC Hails Governor Walker Signing Significant Legal Reforms: WMC Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011. Lawmakers, Walker Praised for Improving Business Climate.
- Wisconsin Small Business Cheers Governor For Signing Tort Reform As Part of Larger Economic Growth Strategy: NFIB Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011. NFIB says Governor and legislative leaders showed courage in standing up to trial lawyers, special interests groups.
- ATRA Lauds Wisconsin’s Governor, Legislators for ‘Reasonable,’ Economy-Boosting Tort Reforms: ATRA Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011.
- WAJ Criticizes Signing of Bill That Limits Rights of Wisconsin Citizens: WAJ Press Release, Jan. 27, 2011.
- Legal Reforms Mean Business for Wisconsin: WCJC Press Release, Jan. 20, 2011. Legislature Passes First Walker Jobs Bill.
- Lawsuit Reforms Needed to Help Job Creation: WMC Press Release, Jan. 11, 2011. Comprehensive Lawsuit Reforms Merit Swift Passage.
- WMC: Pass Comprehensive Lawsuit Abuse Reform Plan: Press Release, Jan. 2011. Governor Walker, Legislative Allies Team Up for Job Creation.
- Cooperative-Sought Legislation Ensures Sound Science in Expert Testimony: Cooperative Network Press Release, Jan. 28, 2011.
- Food Processors Applaud Civil Justice Reforms: Press Release, Jan. 6, 2011.
- Wisconsin Small Business says Tort Reform Must be Part of Larger Economic Growth Package: NFIB Press Release, Jan. 5, 2011. NFIB urges lawmakers in special session to make sensible reforms that will discourage predatory lawsuits against small businesses.
- Wisconsin Defense Counsel Supports Proposed Civil Liability Reforms: Press Release, Jan. 4, 2011. Gov. Walker’s Proposals Provide Fairness and Equity.
- Special Session Legal Reforms a Boon to Economic Development: WEDA Press Release, Jan. 4, 2011. Gov. Walker’s Reforms Will Enhance Wisconsin’s Litigation Atmosphere.
- Restaurants Support Lawsuit Reforms: Wisconsin Restaurant Association Press Release, Jan. 4, 2011.
- Quality Improvement Act Talking Points: Wisconsin Hospital Association, January 2011.
- 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.
- Lawsuit reform concerns advocate for elderly: Stevens Point Journal, Jan. 28, 2011.
- Legislature OKs $67 million tax cut for businesses: Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 27, 2011. Republican Gov. Scott Walker scored more victories Thursday, signing a major lawsuit reform bill into law and watching as the Legislature approved a tax cut for businesses that he says will create new jobs.
- Walker signs bill limiting court awards in injury cases: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 27, 2011. Gov. Scott Walker continued on his roll of victories Thursday, signing a bill making it more difficult to win damage awards in civil suits and seeing lawmakers approve a business tax cut.
- Wis. GOP caps punitive damages in tort reform bill: Bloomberg, Jan. 14, 2011. Senate Republicans revised a sweeping civil lawsuit reform bill Friday to cap punitive damages plaintiffs can collect from defendants.
- Governor stands by jobs pledge: Wisconsin Radio network, Jan. 10, 2011. Walker says it will take tax cuts for small businesses and less red tape for companies that want to expand.
- Walker proposes supermajority requirement for tax hikes: Lakeland Times, Jan. 7, 2011. Business groups hail tort reform proposals.
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
- Photo Coverage
- Wisconsin Public Television, “Here and Now,” January 7, 2011 – WCJC President Bill Smith discusses Governor Walker’s legal reform legislation.
- Wisconsin Public Radio, “Joy Cardin Show,” January 5, 2011 – WCJC President Bill Smith discusses Governor Walker’s legal reform legislation.