A major tort reform package could pass the Legislature and be on its way to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his signature by the end of the week. While other new Republican governors -- notably Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Rick Scott in Florida -- have also declared civil justice reform to be a priority, Walker is being most aggressive, aided by heavy Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature. His first act as governor was to call the Legislature into special session to enact tax, government-reform and economy-related legislation, including tort reform.
Walker's Executive Order #1 set specific goals for the liability reform bill:
Limiting noneconomic damages awarded in actions against long-term care providers; actions against manufacturers, distributors, sellers, and promoters of certain products; confidentiality of health care services reviews; use as evidence of information regarding health care providers; reporting of quality indicators identifying individual hospitals; homicide or injury by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire; criminal abuse of individuals at risk; criminal abuse and neglect of patients and residents; evidence of lay and expert witnesses; damages for frivolous claims; and punitive damage awards.
Both the Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees held hearings on the legislation last week, with the Senate Judiciary passing the bill out for a vote on the Senate floor on Tuesday. A House vote would follow Thursday.
The bill is SB1JR1. After being amended by the Senate committee, the bill would impose a cap of punitive damages of twice compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater. State standards of proof would now reflect the Daubert standard, and the law's provisions would be applied prospectively only.
While the State Bar of Wisconsin opposes several provisions, it website does a good job of reporting the details, "Senate Judiciary Committee approves omnibus tort reform bill, recommends changes." Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is the legislation "a common sense set of legal reforms that send a message to employers that our state is serious about improving our business climate." More coverage...
- Associated Press, "Wis. GOP caps punitive damages in tort reform bill"
- Wisconsin Law Journal, Jack Zemlicka blog, "Reform push"
- Wisconsin Public Radio debate: Bill Smith, President, Wisconsin Civil Justice Council and State Director, National Federation of Independent Business, versus Dan Rottier, CEO, law firm Habush, Habush, and Rottier and past president, Wisconsin Association for Justice.
- Wisconsin Association for Justice news release, "The Only Thing Being Created Under Gov. Walker's So-Called 'Jobs Bill' Is Opposition To It."
- AFL-CIO blog, "Wisconsin Activists Ask: Where Are the Jobs in Gov. Walker's Tort Reform"