For immediate release:  Wednesday, July 6, 2011
For more information, contact:  Jane Garrott, (608) 257-5741


Hazardous Highways Exemption Bill Will Not Provide More Funds for Local Governments

Erasing a 162-Year-Old Law Will Just Make It More Difficult for the Injured


MADISON, WI - A proposal to exempt Wisconsin’s local governments from responsibility for highway and bridge maintenance will simply make it more difficult for injured state drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to be treated fairly, a Wisconsin Association for Justice (WAJ) spokesman said Wednesday.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 180 and Senate Bill 125 are being explained as “clarifications” of a 162-year-old state law that requires municipalities to keep highways, shoulders, bridges and sidewalks safe and well-maintained.  They do not clarify, however, but nullify the intent of the law.

“This exemption for hazardous highways will make average citizens unable to hold local governments responsible for failing to reasonably repair and maintain our bridges and highways,” said Mike End, Wisconsin Association for Justice (WAJ) president.  “Even minimal ability to collect small damages is wiped out.”

“There is already a cap of $50,000 in Wisconsin law for such damages,” said Ed Vopal, WAJ president-elect.  “Now they want to do away altogether with the responsibility to pay for such injuries to drivers, bike riders and pedestrians.”

End said that official fiscal estimates provided by the state departments of Transportation and Revenue have said savings to local governments are “indeterminate.”

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that insurance rates will drop for local governments if they are allowed to shirk responsibility for fixing sidewalks, bridges and roads,” End said.  “And considering the very few lawsuits filed and won annually against municipalities, the idea that – because of these bills – new money will be available to pay for local road repairs is absurd.”

“We have a certain set of lawmakers who want to give local governments a pass for not fixing roads in a timely manner, risking the health and safety of their constituents,” Vopal said. “The question remains: How will passage of a hazardous highway exemption help regular Wisconsin citizens?  The answer is simple: It won’t.”

“We urge the Legislature and the Governor to leave basic protections for Wisconsin residents who use local roads intact, and reject any changes to a wise provision that’s been in place for one hundred and sixty-two years,” End said.

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The Mission of the Wisconsin Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system - one that ensures justice for all, not just a privileged few.

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