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Bill limiting contractor liability up for vote

Legislation that that could decrease contractors’ legal costs and liability may have a chance of passing this session after all.

The proposal, Assembly Bill 773, calls for a series of changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules. Among other things, it would curtail the state’s construction statute of repose, which contractors commonly invoke when defending themselves against personal-injury lawsuits alleging negligent design. Current law bars lawsuits involving injuries that occurred more than 10 years after a given construction project had come to an end. AB 773 proposes reducing that window to six years.

Although enjoying support from industry groups like the Wisconsin Builders Association, the proposal had appeared to be stalled in the Assembly Judiciary Committee with little chance of being sent to the full Legislature for a vote. But, late on Monday, lawmakers arrived at a compromise that will seemingly allow the bill to advance. AB 773 is now scheduled for a vote before the Assembly Judiciary Committee at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Among the proposed changes to the bill is one that would give plaintiffs an additional a year to sue contractors over allegations of negligent designs. Rather than six-year limit in the current version of AB 773, the amendment would allow lawsuits to be filed within seven years of a project’s wrapping up.

Separately from the construction statute of repose, the proposal would make various other changes to the state’s civil-litigation laws. It would, for instance, place time limits on depositions and restrict how many depositions could be requested in a particular dispute. It would also restrict parties from obtaining electronically stored information unless they could show a “substantial need” for it.

The amendment put forward on Monday would strip out a provision setting up new rules for consumer-lawsuit lending and make various changes to the provisions concerning discovery and electronically stored information.

Although these provisions are seemingly 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. A favorable recommendation on Tuesday would mean the bill could before the full Assembly on Thursday, the last day lawmakers in that chamber plan to meet in the current legislative session.

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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