For Immediate Release: Monday, October 31, 2011
For More Information, Contact: Jane Garrott, Executive Director, (608) 257-5741
When Will Governor’s Anti-Consumer Agenda End? More Bills on the Docket This Week to Erase Basic Rights
MADISON, WI – With a week to go before the Legislature’s Autumn Session ends, Wisconsin citizens may ask, “Are Governor Walker’s attacks on our rights over?” Not if some legislators have their way.
“The attempts to restrict consumers’ rights began in January and has not stopped,” said Mike End, Wisconsin Association for Justice (WAJ) president. “Now, in time for Halloween, we have more anti-consumer bills masquerading as ‘job-creating’ legislation.”
More bills that would strip consumers of their rights could be considered this week.
Anti-Consumer Bills Still in Play
Limiting Consumer Attorney Fees: Special Session Bill 12, already passed by the Senate, will make it nearly impossible for employees, tenants and consumers to find an attorney to take a case where the relative cost is small, but the cost to recover a damage deposit or a car repair fee would be great. It presumes that three times the damages are the most a lawyer can recover.
Cutting Interest Rates Paid to Consumers: Special Session Bill 14 will cut the rate that consumers may receive in civil judgments owed them to 1 percent plus prime rate (4.25 percent). Thus, the incentive to pay a consumer on time will be reduced.
Giving Immunity for Hazardous Highways/Bridges: Wisconsin muncipalities have a duty to maintain roadways in a safe condition for motorists and pedestrians. If they fail to do so and an individual is injured, the injured party has a legal right to ask the municipality to pay for their damages. The state law has been in place for 162 years. SB 125/AB 180 takes away the general legal obligation of municipalities to pay for damages involving highway or bridge defects. Unless the injured person could prove the local government had a duty to act under another statutory provision, local governments would enjoy immunity from accidents involving failure to safely maintain highways or bridges.
Giving Immunity for Statements of Potential Responsibility: SB 103/AB 147 would not allow a doctor’s statement of potential responsibility in medical malpractice cases to be used in court.
Giving Immunity to Drug & Medical Device Manufacturers: Special Session Bill 13 offers legal immunity to drug and medical device makers who know of a potential danger to consumers but fail to warn them. Consumers in 48 other states will still have the right to go to court.
Anti-Consumer Laws Already Enacted on February 1 in 2011 Wisconsin Act 2
Facilitates Nursing Home Negligence:
- Allows nursing home operators to hide reports about neglect and abuse of patients, barring the information from being used in court
- Keeps nursing home employees’ statements to investigators secret and out of court
- Limits pain or suffering caused by neglect or abuse to $750,000
Decriminalizes Criminal Conduct of Health Care Providers:
Makes nursing home workers no longer liable for using a dangerous weapon in the scope of work, or committing an act of inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, or failure of good performance
Restricts Product Liability Claims:
Establishes new liability criteria, making it more difficult to hold a distributor or seller accountable for a defective product
Adds a 15-year limit on holding the manufacturer of a defective product accountable
Caps Punitive Damage Awards:
Restricts punitive damages to two times compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater
Shifted the Decision for Reliability of Witnesses to Judges:
Reliability of expert witnesses will now be decided by judges, not juries. This changed the evidence standards in civil and criminal cases, which will lead to more hearings, significantly increasing the cost of litigation
Anti-Consumer Laws Already Enacted in April in 2011 Wisconsin Act 14
Reduces the Security of Auto Insurance Policyholders:
- Takes away the rights of policyholders to use all of the coverage they paid for when they have been injured in a serious accident
- Reduces required coverages for liability, uninsured motorists, underinsured motorists and medical payments
- No longer requires commercial carriers to have uninsured and underinsured coverage
- Makes it more difficult for policyholders to recover damages from their insurer in the event they are run off the road by an unidentified driver
A coalition of Wisconsin consumer groups, including WisPIRG, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, signed a letter stating their opposition to the anti-consumer legislation included in the Governor’s Special Session, which was promoted as a “job-creating” session.
“The Governor’s agenda is clear – the list is long and documented,” End said. “Every one of these bills take away consumers’ rights. In addition, they have nothing to do with job creation.”
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.