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Bill that could decrease contractor liability, legal costs heads to Senate

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill this week meant partly to curtail contractors’ legal costs and liability in certain lawsuits.

The proposal, Assembly Bill 773, would make various changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules, including the construction statute of repose, which is a defense contractors commonly invoke when defending themselves against personal-injury lawsuits that allege negligent design.

Current law bars lawsuits involving injuries that occurred more than 10 years after the completion of a construction project. As passed by the Assembly on Thursday, the bill would reduce that window to seven years.

The bill had strong support from industry groups such as the Wisconsin Builders Association and Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. Even so, its chances of being adopted appeared slim at the beginning of this week. Only through the use of last-minute compromise were lawmakers able to find the votes needed to advance the bill out of committee and put it before the full Assembly, which passed it on a 60-34 vote Thursday night.

AB 773 now goes to the state Senate, which plans to convene for the last time this session in March. Approval then would send the bill to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for a signature.

Separately from the construction statute of repose, AB 773 would make various changes to procedures used to gather information during litigation, including placing time limits on depositions, restricting how many depositions could be requested and changing rules governing what electronically stored information parties must either retain or produce.

Although these changes appear unrelated to construction, supporters of the bill have contended they could cause contractors who are involved in litigation to spend less money and time responding to discovery requests.

About Erika Strebel

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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