Attorney: New Legislation Could Harm WI Drivers

By Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI
 
March 28, 2013

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Wisconsin law says an injured person can recover from a negligent person - such as a drunken driver - the value of medical care that the injured person receives as the result of an accident. Milwaukee attorney Jeff Pitman is president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. He said a bill in the Legislature to allow into evidence the amount paid by another party, such as a health insurance company, would end up harming responsible drivers.

"It's been the law in Wisconsin for over 100 years that, if you're a bad driver and you cause somebody harm, you're 100 percent responsible for all the harm you've caused," he said. "The bill that's been submitted completely changes that scenario."

Supporters of the bill said it would help bring down the cost of auto insurance. Pitman disagreed, pointing out that Wisconsin ranks sixth lowest in the nation for its auto insurance premiums. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, states that have this law, which lawyers call a "collateral source rule," all have higher car insurance rates.

In 2012, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state's collateral source rule. It said the entire cost of a driver's wrongful conduct should be awarded to fully compensate the injured party, regardless of the amount their health insurance might have paid. 

Pitman said this legislation would allow what lawyers call "premium theft."

"For example, if you've paid $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 for your premiums, you do not get credit for paying those health insurance premiums," he said. "That is another reason we think they're taking something - that is, a bad driver is taking something - that he doesn't deserve."

In Pitman's view, the proposed change would reward bad behavior and end up penalizing the injured person, who has planned ahead and acted responsibly in paying health insurance premiums. He warned that it would harm those who pay for health insurance, because they would receive less compensation for the same injury than someone who had remained uninsured.

The proposed bills are SB-22 and AB-29, which are available at http://legiscan.com.

 

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