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Thursday, November 3, 2011

 8:32 PM 

Assembly moving through litigation reform bills

The Assembly has passed two of the special session bills litigation bills.

The first bill limits interest rates on civil actions for consumers who win judgments to 1 percent plus prime rate. The bill passed 59-36 and will head to the governor.

The second bill says that a real property owner is not liable for injury or death of a person trespassing on their property. This does not apply if the owner willfully, wanton or recklessly caused the injury. It also does not apply in certain conditions if the trespasser is a child. The bill passed 80-15.

Currently, the Assembly is taking up the bill that would force judges to presume that reasonable attorney’s fees do not exceed three times the compensatory damages awarded. The court could overcome this presumption, however, with proper justification.

Democrats argue that the bill would make it impossible for certain residents, such as students, to sue landlords and businesses under the consumer protection act, because lawyers would no longer take cases for small amounts.

"Were picking the winners and that’s the unscrupulous businesses who screwed them over," said Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, responded to a question from Dem. Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, as to whether he would pay less in attorneys fees under a pending case. Vos said he would not, as the bill wouldn't apply retroactively.

UPDATE: The Assembly voted 55-39 to approve the limits on attorneys fees.

Minority Leader Peter Barca complained the legislation would gut Wisconsin's "lemon law" and be detrimental to consumers.

"It's all about the little guy," Barca said, repeatedly calling the bill "terrible."

Vos countered the bill would not impact the "lemon law" and said Republicans doubled to $10,000 the size of a case that could go to small claims court. He also said Dems were misinterpreting the bill because it does not establish a hard cap, but rather sets a statewide standard that judges should consider.

He also rebuffed criticism from Dems about his own case dealing with attorneys' fees, saying about a fourth of the Dem caucus are attorneys who would be impacted by the legislation as well.

"Well, no, it's not," Vos said, responding to Barca's criticism. "It's about the trial attorney."


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