Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Archives - Shopfloor

Gov. Walker Signs Tort Reform Package in Wisconsin

By | Briefly Legal | 3 Comments

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: Read More

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Tort Reform Package, Sends it to Gov. Walker

By | Briefly Legal | 2 Comments

From Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, “WMC Hails Legislature for Passage of Common Sense Legal Reforms“:

MADISONWisconsin’s largest business group Friday hailed the Wisconsin Legislature for swift final passage of common sense legal reforms that will improve the state’s business climate. We look forward to Governor Scott Walker signing his reforms into law.

“The swift, decisive action on common sense legal reforms is sending a message from Platteville to Wall Street that Wisconsin is open for business,” said James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations. “With other states raising taxes, and passing other anti-business legislation, Wisconsin can stand apart and encourage businesses to create jobs.

The Assembly vote Thursday was 57-36 along party lines to approve without amendment the Senate’s version of the bill . The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday,19-14, also with Republican in support and Democrats opposed.

The WMC identified the most important legal reforms for manufacturers.

  • 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. [Twice economic damages or $200,000, whichever is larger.]

The State Bar of Wisconsin, which opposes several major provisions, has done a credible job reporting on the legislation’s passage. See “Assembly sends omnibus tort reform bill to governor.”

The civil justice reform package was one of five jobs-oriented bills new Gov. Scott Walker introduced upon taking office and for which he called a special session of the Legislature to act upon. See the Jan. 4 news release, “Governor Walker Releases Five Pieces of Legislation to Get Wisconsin Working.”

More coverage …

Tort Reform Package Passes Wisconsin Senate

By | Briefly Legal | No Comments

The Wisconsin Senate on Tuesday passed SBJR1, Gov. Scott Walker’s tort reform package, by a vote of 19-14. Republicans voted for the bill, Democrats against it.

In a news release, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) cited major provisions of importance to manufacturers:

  • Manufacturer protection: forcing lawsuits for legal damages to prove that the defendant actually manufactured the product that caused the damage;
  • Punitive damage reform: Sets a cap on punitive, noneconomic damages, which are currently unlimited. Recovering for actual economic damages is still allowed and uncapped;
  • Frivolous lawsuit reform: punish and ultimately prevent lawsuits with malicious intent or the sole intent of harassing a defendant.

This bill sets specific standards for improving the state’s tort climate, giving business greater confidence that they can thrive in Wisconsin instead of worrying about frivolous lawsuits and trial attorneys chasing the deepest pockets.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce issued a news release before the vote, urging passage. More from WisPolitics.com.

For Manufacturing Jobs in Wisconsin, Civil Justice Reform

By | Briefly Legal | No Comments

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the NAM’s partner in the Badger State, has come out in strong support of a package of civil justice reform measures proposed by new Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans. Introduced on Jan. 6 in Assembly, the bill is Assembly Bill 1 . The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11.

The bill proposes the following, the WMC reports:

  • 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.
  • Heightened standards for the award of punitive damages.

In a release, James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations, said: “These are common sense reforms that will ensure our legal system is fair and predictable so that employers can be confident that they won’t be sued out of business. These reforms will improve our business climate and will help encourage job creation while protecting victims.”

The Wisconsin Bar Association, which opposes many of the provisions, still did a good job summarizing the bill in a report, “Republicans introduce omnibus tort reform bill, public hearing scheduled for Tuesday.” More …

Congrats to WMC for Ruling to Affirm Employer Speech

By | Briefly Legal, General, Labor Unions | One Comment

Congratulations to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) for the group’s successful challenge to a state law that attempted to restrict employers’ rights to communicate with their employees during union organizing campaigns. From WMC’s “Insight: Union Organizing Statute Found Unconstitutional“:

Earlier this year, Governor Jim Doyle signed Act 290, making Wisconsin the second state in the nation to attempt to strip employers of their right to hold “captive-audience” talks with their workforce. Act 290 amended the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) to prohibit employers from disciplining employees who refuse to attend “employer-sponsored meetings” or “participate in any communication with the employer or agent, representative, or designee of the employer” where the “primary purpose” of the meeting or communication is to express the employer’s “opinion” about an employee’s decision to join or support a union….

WMC and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce had urged Gov. Doyle to veto the bill and thus subsequently filed suit, challenging the state law as a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. More from WMC:

The suit asserted that the WFEA amendments were preempted by the NLRA and violated the free speech rights Wisconsin employers enjoy under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Read More

Wisconsin: Senate Also Drops Joint and Several Change

By | Briefly Legal | No Comments

From the State Bar of Wisconsin:

As with the Assembly, among the budget changes adopted by the Senate were amendments completely removing provisions that would have modified rules governing contributory negligence and joint and several liability, thereby retaining current law. However, the Senate – like the Assembly — kept budget provisions allowing the stacking of auto insurance policies and requiring increased coverage minimums. In addition, the Senate added a controversial provision requiring drivers in Wisconsin to purchase auto liability insurance.

Governor Jim Doyle had used the budget to propose the return to a “deep pockets” approach toward liability, encouraging the filing of more lawsuits based on the thinnest of speculative bases. It was a clear message to businesses to stay out of Wisconsin, which the lawmakers seemed to have realized.

Still a conference committee to go, though.

For more, see this piece by James Haney of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

In Wisconsin, Legislators Listen to Grassroots and Manufacturers

By | Briefly Legal, General | No Comments

From The Associated Press, “Assembly Democrats back away from liability change,” reporting that Wisconsin Assembly Democrats have voted to remove Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget proposal to expand joint and several liability, which would encourage deep-pocket lawsuits against businesses and others.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, an NAM affiliate, has been leading the fight against the provision sought only by trial lawyers and their political beneficiaries and a serious threat to the Wisconsin’s already struggling economy.

“It’s the classic victory for grass roots lobbying,” said James Buchen, vice president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group. “If enough people make enough calls and write enough letters, legislators will do what the people want them to do.”

Darn right. WMC is on the mark in terms of policy, but it also has its act together in organization and PR efforts. On the front page of its website, www.wmc.org, is a June 10th column from its president, James Haney, “Defining Moment in Wisconsin State Government.”

In comparison, the latest news release on the website for the trial lawyers, the Wisconsin Association for Justice, is dated April 23. Not very good when you’re trying to plead your case.

There’s more education and persuasion to come. Senate Democrats may have other ideas than their brethren in the other chamber, and the joint and several provision — why is it in the budget? — is far from dead.

Wisconsin Budget Debate Starts, a ‘Defining Moment’

By | Briefly Legal, Taxation | No Comments

A “Insight Column” from James S. Haney as Wisconsin’s legislature prepares to debate Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget, Assembly Bill 75. He writes, persuasively, that the debate is indeed a, “Defining Moment in Wisconsin State Government.”

Leaders of Wisconsin State Government are rapidly approaching a generational defining moment when the full Legislature takes up the State Budget Bill, Assembly Bill 75. In addition to a myriad of tax Increases and earmarked pet projects sprinkled through key legislative districts, the budget continues to contain major policy changes, including a fundamental rewriting of Wisconsin’s negligence law.

If the Legislature votes to keep these negligence law changes in the budget, Wisconsin will have the most extreme liability laws in the United States. The damage this will wreak on Wisconsin’s economy is unfathomable, because there is no other liability system to compare to it. Businesses, their workers, and consumers through insurance costs, will pay a hefty price if these changes are approved.

At issue is “joint and several liability,” that is, the apportioning of culpability in liability lawsuits. Under current Wisconsin law passed in 1995, a plaintiff can collect all of the damages from a defendant only if the defendant is 51 percent or more responsible for the harm.

Gov. Doyle’s budget — and why is a tort issue even part of a budget bill? — guts this standard and instead encourages the hunt for “deep pocket” defendants to pay all the damages, even if their responsibility is just 1 percent. As Haney explains:

A budget priority for the Wisconsin Governor, during a time of the greatest economic turmoil in generations, was to return Wisconsin to a comparative negligence system where a defendant one percent at fault for an injury could be held jointly and severally liable for all of the other defendants’ liability in a claim. However, it gets worse, Wisconsin’s Chief Executive proposed changing the negligence rules further by creating a “combined fault” provision in the law under which a plaintiff could be at greater fault for his own injury than each defendant in a claim. But, so long as the combined liability of multiple defendants was greater than that of the plaintiff, the plaintiff could recover from each defendant to the degree of their fault, Thus, a plaintiff could be 40 percent at fault for their own injury, but could still recover individually from three defendants who were each 20 percent at fault.

Not to be harsh, but not only is this debate a “defining moment” for legislators and government, passage of the bill would be a defining idiocy for any state seeking to maintain a competitive business environment.

It’s difficult to see how this could be a priority for any politician who wasn’t beholden to campaign contributors in the plaintiff’s bar.

UPDATE (4:05 p.m.): The Assembly Democrats, meeting in closed caucus, have voted to remove the provision from the budget. The Senate Democrats will probably resist the effort, our sources tell us.

Wisconsin Governor Proposes Budget Plan: Let’s Sue Business!

By | Briefly Legal | No Comments

The Wisconsin Assembly is expected to begin debating the state’s budget Wednesday, and along with billions of dollars in increased taxes and fees are very non-budgetary provisions that would encourage litigation against businesses. Governor Jim Doyle wants to rewrite the state’s handling of liability, in the process invigorating the lawyers’ pursuits of deep pockets.

As Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce puts it, the budget would expand liability by returning to joint and several liability that allows a defendant found to bear 1 percent of fault to pay 100 percent of the damages.

How’s that for a competitive selling point around the country: Deep pockets? Come to Wisconsin! We’ll sue the hell out of you!

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — the NAM’s ally in Wisconsin — has been leading a petition campaign against the budget. From a news release, “Wisconsin Business Community United Against State Budget“:

MADISONIn a massive outpouring of opposition, more than 2,100 business executives signed petitions urging the Legislature to reject a state budget with $3 billion in higher taxes and expanded liability, WMC announced Tuesday.

“The business community is united in urging the Legislature to reject the $3 billion in higher taxes and joint and several liability,” said James S. Haney, WMC president. “The budget under consideration will hamper job creation in our state and prolong the recession.”

Last Wednesday, WMC emailed petitions to businesses throughout the state asking executives to announce their opposition to the $3 billion tax hikes, joint and several liability and other anti-growth measures.

Here’s the WMC’s web alert on the issue: “State Budget – Eliminating Joint & Several Liability Changes and Jury Instructions.”