Priority Issues

As an advocate for the legal rights of all Wisconsin citizens, the Wisconsin Association for Justice works with the state legislature and other governmental bodies to preserve our civil justice system and ensure everyone has the ability to seek justice - even when taking on the most powerful wrongdoers.

WAJ will lobby legislators on the following bills, giving a strong voice to Wisconsin consumers.  If you would like to help, please contact your area legislators and make sure they join the Wisconsin Association for Justice in standing with Wisconsin consumers.  Here the link to contact your legislators.

2013-14 Session

Legislation Signed Into Law

2013 Wisconsin Act 242 -- I'm Responsible, but Not Accountable Bill

Governor Walker signed 2013 Wisconsin Act 242 on April 8 and it was published on April 9, 2014.  The Wisconsin Association for Justice (WAJ) believes health care providers should be encouraged to openly express apologies and condolences for unanticipated outcomes with patients and their families.  But 2013 Wisconsin Act 242 goes far beyond that. It would make inadmissible statements and conduct that express “fault,” “liability” or “responsibility.” Under the bill, statements made prior to the commencement of a legal proceeding are discoverable, but still inadmissible at trial as evidence of liability or an admission against interest. This would mean that if a healthcare worker admitted fault at the time of the incident to a family member, yet later denied making any statement during a deposition, the initial statement of fault would be inadmissible.  The witness could not be asked about the first statement. Thirty-six states have a version of "I Am Sorry" legislation but a significant majority of those laws stop short of the extreme standard Wisconsin adopted. (View state chart) Wisconsin

Background of legislation
Assembly Bill 120 (AB-120) and Senate Bill 129 (SB-129) were introduced by Rep. Erik Severson and Sen. Leah Vukmir.  The bills were referred the Assembly Health Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee.

On Wednesday, May 29th, the Assembly Health Committee held a public hearing on AB-120.  Jeff Pitman testified against the bill on behalf of WAJ. The hearing is available for viewing on WisconsinEye. (Beginning at time 4:17 and lasts about 2 hours.)  Click here to view testimony submitted at the public hearing.

Rep. Severson introduced Assembly Amendment 1, which would limit the inadmissibility of statements to those prior to a legal proceeding or administrative hearing commencing.  It still covers expressions of “fault,” “liability” and “responsibility.”  At the executive session on June 5, the amendment was adopted 7-4.  Representatives Severson, Stone, Sanfelippo, Strachota, August, Kapenga and Petersen supported the amendment and Representatives Pasch, C. Taylor, Kolste and Riemer opposed it.

The bill passed the Assembly on February 18, 2014.  Democrats attempted to amend the bill to remove the three words, "fault", "liability" and "responsibility, but the Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 was defeated, 58-38.

The bill had stalled in the Senate due to opposition from the Chair of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend).  However, Senate leadership simply sent the Assembly-passed bill to the Health and Human Services Committee that was chaired by Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), who just happened to be the author of AB-120.  The Committee held a public hearing on the bill on March 6.  WAJ President-Elect Ann Jacobs testified against the bill for WAJ.  Also testifying against the bill were members of the Wisconsin State Bar Litigation Section, which is made up of both plaintiff and defense lawyers.  The group unanimously opposed the legislation without the removal of the words, "fault," "liability" and "responsibility." (View their memo.)

The Health Committee exec'ed the bill on March 7 and Senate leadership scheduled the bill for a vote on the last day of Senate session, April 1, 2014.  Lined up in support of the bill were 31 healthcare related trade associations.  Amendments were offered by Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Sen. Grothman to remove the three offensive words, but all failed on a 19-14 vote. (SSA-1 and SA-1)  All Republicans voted for the bill except for Sen. Grothman.  All Democrats voted against the bill except Sen. Tim Cullen (Janesville) and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (Alma). 

The Senate floor the debate was lead by Sen. Risser.  He was joined by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), Sen. Mark Miller (D-Madison), and Sen. Grothman.  The only senator speaking in favor of the bill was Sen. Vukmir, the bill’s author.  (The debate can be viewed on WisconsinEye, Part 2 of 3 beginning at 2:05:05 and lasting about 1 hour.)

View Press Release When Governor Walker Signed Legislation

2013 Wisconsin Act 154 – Asbestos Protection Act

2013 Wisconsin Act 154 was signed by Governor Walker on March 27 and went into effect March 28, 2104.

The new law was the subject of heated debate and in the end was amended in the Senate, which made some changes in the bill, but the effect of the bill is unquestionably bad for people suffering from asbestos poisoining who seek justice in Wisconsin courts.  The new law makes it harder for Wisconsinites to pursue legal remedies and compensation for illnesses related to repeated exposure to asbestos, including mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that disproportionately affects veterans. The most onerous impact is the damages provision, which requires an abestos victim and their family to turn over trust money to companies that knowingly exposed the victim to asbestos. This change completely disregards that an offending party is not entitled to reimbursement until a victim is made whole. To read more about those fighting the bill, go to the Wisconsin Asbestos Victims Network webpage.

Background of the bill's passage
Senate Bill 13 and Assembly Bill 19 were introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque and Sen. Glenn Grothman.  The bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
 

On April 4, 2013 the Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on AB-19.  WisconsinEye videotaped the hearing. It begins at part 2 of the hearing. To view the testimony from the public hearing, click here.

Prior to the hearing, groups and individuals opposed to AB-19 held a press conference.  It was also videotaped by WisconsinEye. Speaking at the press conference against the bill were: Robert Kraig, Executive Director, Wisconsin Citizen Action • John Schmitt, President and Business Manager, Wisconsin Laborers’ Council • Keith Kemper, Business Representative, Sheet Metal Workers Local #18 • Craig Peachy, State Director, United Transportation Union
• Brendan Fischer, Staff Counsel, Center for Media and Democracy • Jeff Pitman, President, Wisconsin Association for Justice • Betty Beyer, her husband, Edmund Beyer, died of mesothelioma •Michael Pollack with clients, Marybeth Nuutinen and Scott Nuutinen, Marybeth's husband and Scott's father died of mesothelioma

On April 11, 2013, the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee held a public on SB-13.  Click here to view the testimony submitted at the hearing.

Rep. Ott introduced a Substitute Amendment, (ASA-1) along with a simple amendment to the Substitute Amendment.  While some concerns were addressed in ASA-1, the amendment continues to delay cases, still forces plaintiffs to file claims with bankruptcy trusts and treats the submission of a claim with a bankruptcy trust the same as a finding negligence  Click here for a full list of objections.

Rep. Wachs introduced a Substitute Amendment (ASA-2) which deals only with discovery issues — requiring plaintiffs to provide information on claims they file with bankruptcy trusts.  It does not include any stays or how evidence of the trust claims could be used during the trial.  The amendment would only apply to personal injury actions where a person had filed a claim with a bankruptcy trust and not all personal injury actions.

On April 25, 2013, the Assembly Judiciary Committee voted to reject ASA-2 by a 2-6 vote. (Reps. Wachs and Goyke voted in favor. Reps. J. Ott, Jacque, August, Kerkman, Larson and Craig voted against.  Rep. Hebl was absent.) The Committee than voted to adopt ASA-1 and recommended passage by a 6-2 vote. (Reps. J. Ott, Jacque, August, Kerkman, Larson and Craig voted in favor.  Reps. Wachs and Goyke voted against.  Rep. Hebl was absent.)

On May 8th, the State Assembly took up the bill.  Democrats introduced two amendments.  The first was a substitute amendment that limited the bill to the discovery of claims filed with bankruptcy trusts.  The second was a simple amendment that would have exempted the claims of people who served in the military.  Both failed on a party line vote.  The bills, as amended in the Judiciary Committee, passed 58-39 (2 not voting).

Here is a link to the Assembly debate from WisconsinEye.  The debate begins at about 1:40:40 and lasts about 1.5 hours.  Rep. Hebl reads the letter or Renee Simpson on the Assembly Floor. (At about 2:10 in the debate)  Renee is sitting in the Gallery and recognized by her Assembly Representative. (At about 2:20 in the debate)

The bill remained in the Senate Judiciary for several months, but was exec'ed out with by a party-line vote on October 10, 2013. Behind the scenes, a few Senators and affected groups were working to make changes in the Assembly-passed bill.  On March 11, 2014 the full Senate took up an amended version of the bill (Senate Substitute Amendment 1). (WisconsinEye carried the Senate debate -- Part 2 beginning at 8:32:08 and lasting about 45 minutes.) The legislation continues to place new requirements upon asbestos victims and requires additional steps before they can seek justice in our civil justice system. Here is a chart comparing the original bill, the Assembly-passed version and the Senate-passed version.  While some changes were positive – limiting the legislation to only abestos cases – the damages provision became significantly worse and will impede justice for asbestos vicims.

Click here to view "Dying to Get Their Day in Court" story by Tim Morrissey of Wisconsin Public News Service on 2/25/13.

Click to view article "Critics say bill would hold up asbestos lawsuits until plaintiffs die" by Steve Elbow of the Capital Times on 3/1/13.

Stories on passage of the bill in the Assembly were carried by a number of outlets:  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Daily Reporter, WISC-TV 3, Fox 11, Dubuque Telegrah Herald, Pierce County Herald, and WPR.  In addition, here are statements by Rep. Wachs, Rep. Kahl and Rep. Milroy.

Stories on the passage of the bill in the Senate were carried by a number of outlets:  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wisconsin Public Radio and a statement by Senator Julie Lassa.

On Passage and the Governor's Signature:  Green Bay Press Gazette Editorial, La Crosse Tribune, WKOW-TV (ABC), WMTV-TV & Video (NBC), Wisconsin Radio Network, Manitowoc Herald, Fox6Now, Green Bay Press Gazette, Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Radio Network, WORT-Radio.

2013 Wisconsin Act 101 -- Changes in Wisconsin's Lemon Law

2013 Wisconsin Act 101 was signed by Governor Walker on December 13 and published on December 14, 2013.

The new law changes Wisconsin's Lemon law in the following ways:

  • Limits the amount of time a consumer would have to file suit from 6 years to 3 years.
  • Eliminates mandatory double damages compensation ro manufacturers who didn't meet the 30 day deadline to replace or refund the cost of the vehicle to consumers.
  • Creates a definition of "out of service":
  1. The vehicle is in the possession of the manufacturer, lessor or dealer to repair a nonconformity; or
  2. The vehicle is in the consumer’s possession and the vehicle has a nonconformity that substantially affects the use or safety of the vehicle.
  • If the consumer requests a refund, manufacturers must provide the refund with a check within 30 days.  If a refund is provided, there is no deduction for reasonable allowance for use.
  • If the consumer requests a replacement vehicle, the manufacturer has 30 days to agree in writing to provide the vehicle or a refund of the full purchase price plus other taxes, fee and collateral costs. It then gives the manufacturer 15 days – 45 days total – to provide the comparable new vehicle or refund.
  • Creates definition of “heavy-duty vehicle” which is a vehicle more than 10,000 lbs. For heavy duty vehicles, the manufacturer must inform the consumer within 30 days of the notice to provide a comparable vehicle or a refund.  The manufacturer than has another 90 days – 120 days altogether – to provide the comparable vehicle or refund.
  • If a heavy vehicle consumer enters into a written settlement agreement, then the provisions of the Lemon Law shall not apply to the vehicle. 
  • If a party failed to reasonably cooperate to meet the obligations of this bill and hinders the other party’s ability to comply, the Court may extend deadlines, reduce damages, attorneys or costs, strike pleadings or enter a default judgment against the offending party.

This new law takes effect on the first day of the 3rd month beginning after publication or March 1, 2014.

Background on bill
2013 Wisconsin Act 101 was introduced as Assembly Bill 200 and Senate Bill 182 by Rep. Bill Kramer and Sen. Jerry Petrowski.  The
Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on AB-200 on May 29, 2013.  WisconsinEye taped the hearing and it can be viewed here.  To view the testimony from the public hearing, click here.  On June 12 the State Assembly voted 88-8 to support the amended bill. 

The Senate Transportation, Public Safety, and Veteran and Military Affairs Committee held a hearing on July 18.  The State Senate concurred in AB-200 on September 17 by a 32-1 vote.  The bill was enrolled on September 26.

Click here to view:  "WI Attorney: Don’t Change Our Lemon Law" by Tim Morrissey at Wisconsin Public News Service.

Click here to view: "Polticians' plan could make your next new car buy way too expensive" by Terrence Polich.

Click here to view:  "Possible Lemon Law Revisions Upset Consumer Advocates" by Gilman Halsted at Wisconsin Public Radio.

2013 Wisconsin Act 111 — Changing Wisconsin's Informed Consent Law

2013 Wisconsin Act 111 makes several changes toWisconsin's Informed Consent law, Wis. Stat. § 448.30. The informed consent law requires a physician to inform the patient about the availability of reasonable alternate medical modes of treatment and about the benefits and risks of these treatments. The bill changes the "reasonable patient standard" to a "reasonable physician standard." The reasonable physician standard requires disclosure only of information that a reasonable physician in the same or a similar medical specialty would know and disclose under the circumstances. If the physician fails to inform the patient about reasonable alternate modes of medical treatment, including the benefits and risks of these treatments, the physician failed to use reasonable care and is negligent.  The legislature added a new exception:  "Information about alternate medical modes of treatment for any condition the physician has not included in his or her diagnosis at the time the physician informs the patient."

Background of legislation:
In 2012, the Supreme Court decided Jandre v. Physicians Insurance Company of Wisconsin, 2012 WI 39, 340 Wis. 2d 31, 813 N.W.2d 627, which reaffirmed the requirements of the informed consent law that require a physician disclose information necessary for a reasonable person to make an intelligent decision with respect to the choices of treatment or diagnosis.  In that particular case,  the doctor diagnosed Bells Palsy, but did not advise the patient of a diagnostic test (a carotid ultrasound) that was available to rule out the possibility of a stroke.  Subsequently the patient suffered a massive stroke.  The jury did not find the doctor negligent in the diagnosis of Bells Palsy, but did find the doctor violated the informed consent statute in not advising the patient of the test to rule out a stroke. Senate Bill 137 and Assembly Bill 139 were introduced in response to this case.

On April 11, 2013 both the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee held public hearings on the bill.  Click here to view the testimony submitted at the Assembly Hearing and click here to view the testimony submitted at the Senate hearing.  The Assembly passed the AB-139 on May 8 by a 65-31 vote.  Read WAJ's statement on passage.

In Senate, Senator Glenn Grothman introduced an amendment, which revised the bill.  AB-139 passed the Senate, as amended, by a voice vote on October 15.  The Assembly concurred in the Senate Amendment and passed the revised legislation on November 5.  The Governor signed the legislation on December 13.  Read WAJ press release.

Click here to view, "UW Legal Expert: Proposed Change Puts Patients' Rights at Risk" by Tim Morrissey at Public News Service on 4/24/13.

Click here to view, "Patients' right-to-know at heart of Wisconsin debate" by Guy Boulton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on 4/28/13.

Check out the Citizen Action of Wisconsin video featuring an injured patient.

Legislation That Died without Passing

Senate Bill 22 and Assembly Bill 29 -- Changing the Collateral Source Rule

Senate Bill 22 and Assembly Bill 29 were introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque and Sen. Paul Farrow.  The bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

On April 11, 2013 the Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Ab-29.  WisconsinEye taped the hearing.  The hearing on the collateral source rules starts at minute 53 in the 3rd segment.   The testimony from the public hearing can be viewed online here.

Testifying against the legislation was Mark Perelshtein, a small business owner from Grafton.  Read his story here.

Click to view Talking Points and Press Release.

Click here to read Frank Pasternak's Blog. View Jeff Pitman's column.

Following Legislation

In the past legislative session, several bills were introduced that affected the civil justice system.  To check what bills WAJ lobbied on, check the Government Accountability Board's website, which lists the bills.

Governor Walker's Attacks on Consumer Rights, 2011-2012

2011-12 Session Highlights

 

 
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