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Walker signs Wisconsin tort reform into law

By Erika Strebel
Wisconsin Law Journal

Scott Walker

Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker last week signed legislation making a long list of changes to the state’s civil litigation rules. It will tighten the discovery rules and allow parties to appeal class-action certification.

Among the many changes, Assembly Bill 773 modifies the state’s construction statute of repose, which contractors commonly invoke as a defense in certain personal-injury lawsuits. The statute prevents injured plaintiffs from suing over negligent design for an injury that occurred more than 10 years after a project was substantially completed. A provision in AB 773 shrinks that window to seven years.

Also under the bill, insurers will see a decrease in the interest rate they must pay on overdue claims. The proposed change lowers the rate from 12 percent to 7.5 percent.

AB 773 changes adopt a new scope-of-discovery provision that includes a proportionality requirement identical to the one found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The changes will also limit the number of depositions that can be taken to 10, each of which can last no more than 7 hours. An exception exists for stipulations between the parties or court orders amending the limits. It will also limit the number of interrogatories to 25 and prevent parties from requesting records more than five years before a cause of action accrues. However, certain records will be exempt from that limit.

When that discovery requires third-party financing, the details about that financing must be provided to the opposing party, without awaiting a discovery request.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has already revised the state’s class-action rule to have it match its federal counterpart. AB 773 modifies what the justices had done previously by allowing for interlocutory appeals of class-certification orders that will stall all proceedings in a case, although courts will still be able to consider and weigh in on settlements reached between parties.

That modification to class-action rules is the only provision that won’t take effect immediately now that the bill has been signed by Walker. That change will instead take effect on July 1, when the rest of the class-action rule approved by the high court goes into effect.

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