June 15, 2009Client Alert

Democratic Majority in State Assembly Removes Changes to Wisconsin’s Contributory Negligence Provisions from State Budget

Wisconsin Assembly Democrats voted on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, to remove the proposed changes to Wisconsin’s joint and several liability statute from Assembly Bill 75. The three main provisions of the proposed changes included revisions to the joint and several liability laws, the recovery bars and Wisconsin jury instructions. In a closed caucus meeting, Assembly Democrats voted to remove these proposed changes to Governor Doyle’s budget.

The original changes proposed by Governor Doyle included:

  • Allowing a person found liable for as little as 1% to pay for 100% of the damages (under the “joint and several liability” provisions).

  • Allowing a person to be sued and forced to pay a party who is more at fault.

  • Instructing juries on the effects of their awards (i.e. letting juries know that assessing liability in a certain way could foreclose recovery by a Plaintiff).

These controversial changes were met with opposition from a number of groups in Wisconsin, including business, economic development and tourism groups. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce gathered numerous petitions that objected to many provisions of proposed budget, and specifically objected to the proposals to change Wisconsin’s contributory negligence statute. Other groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Business-Wisconsin, similarly supported removing the contributory negligence revisions from the budget.

Despite this good news for entities doing business in Wisconsin, the battle over this legislation will continue. Even if the full Assembly approves removing the contributory negligence items from the budget, the Senate will also have to concur with the removal. The Senate is expected to debate on these and other budget amendments this week.

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