Gov. Walker Signs Tort Reform Package in Wisconsin

By January 28, 2011Briefly Legal

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who took office just this month, has an early victory in his effort to improve the state’s business climate, the major tort reform package introduced in the special session of the Legislature he called to pass jobs and economic growth bills. He signed the bill, SB1, in the governor’s conference room on Thursday.

From The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story, “Walker signs bill limiting court awards in injury cases“:

“This is a balance we are trying to create, to make sure certainly those who do damage and do harm are rightfully going to be penalized, even when this act becomes law,” Walker said. “But for those who have been . . .  threatened with frivolous lawsuits, particularly for small business, they’re going to receive relief today because . . .  we move forward in cutting back on frivolous lawsuits and out-of-control lawsuit abuse in the state of Wisconsin.”

Credit also goes to the state Senate and Assembly, which passed the legislation.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, an effective and energetic supporter of the legislation hailed the bill’s signing. “These reforms will add certainty, fairness and predictability to our legal system,” said James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations. The key provisions, according to WMC:

  • Adoption of various changes to product liability law to bring Wisconsin in line with other states and assist Wisconsin manufacturers and small businesses.
  • Requiring expert witnesses to base their opinions on sound science and well-established theories.
  • Elimination of the “risk contribution” theory in manufacturing lawsuits. The Wisconsin Supreme Court created the standard allowing plaintiffs to sue any lead paint manufacturer that sold paint in the state without proving which product caused the harm.
  • A cap on punitive damage awards.  [$200,000 or twice economic damages, whichever is higher.]


The American Tort Reform Association also lauded the bill’s enactment. ATRA’s President Sherman “Tiger” Joyce commented: “More than any ad campaign, a civil justice system that is equitable and reliably predictable signals to employers that a state is truly ‘open for business. Particularly in light of recent liability-expanding state court decisions, the new reform package enacted by Wisconsin will help convince employers that it’s a new day in the Badger State.”

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