Tort reform provide new challenges
By Gil Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio
Superior Telegram
Jan. 24, 2011

Lawyers on both sides of the debate over tort reform aren't happy with some of the provisions in the new state law passed last week.

The law is meant to protect doctors and manufacturers from expensive law suit settlements. But critics say the provisions that change the rules for admitting expert witness testimony could result in longer – and more expensive -- trials.

Madison Attorney Mike Riley represents people who sue companies whose products injure consumers. He says the stricter rules for admitting what some call “junk science” is not popular even among many lawyers who defend companies from lawsuits.

"Because they think it simply is cumbersome”, says Riley. “It's expensive and frankly, it probably doesn't achieve a lot."

The new law would make Wisconsin expert witness rules identical to those used in federal court and in 40 other states. Riley says efforts by judges and lawyers to prevent the change before the bill was voted on fell on deaf ears.

"At least with respect to product liability and things of that nature they're definitely not driving the train. I mean, it's Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce controlling that."

But Riley predicts judges may end up derailing the change if defense lawyers start using the law to challenge too many expert witnesses.

Criminal Lawyers may also have some complaints about how the bill restricts their ability to use police and crime lab staff as witnesses. Governor Walker is expected to sign the bill this week.

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