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Assembly OKs bill to shield contractors from liability

A bill that could shield contractors from legal liability and decrease their legal costs is now on its way to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

Among other things, Assembly Bill 773 would modify 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 would shrink that window down to 7 years.

AB 773 would also make changes to the state’s rules of discovery, which govern the fact-finding process that occurs before a trial in a lawsuit. Bill proponents have said that process can be burdensome and expensive for defendants, particularly for contractors. AB 773’s proposed changes, they argue, could reduce legal costs.

The Assembly’s meeting this week came a month after Assembly lawmakers passed a slightly different version of the legislation during what they then said would be their last meeting of the current legislative session. Taking up the bill again on Thursday, lawmakers wasted little time, approving it on a voice vote. This time, though, they were approving a version that was identical to one also passed by the Senate.

When taking up AB 773 on Tuesday, the Senate had complicated the bill’s path through the Legislature by amending it before passing it. That meant the legislation had to go back to the Assembly before it could be sent to the governor.

The amendment, now adopted by both chambers, was introduced by Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Republican from Racine who has been opposed to the bill. Wanggaard contended that one of the provisions in AB 773 relating to the preservation of electronically stored information would encourage parties to destroy information relevant to lawsuits that were in the midst of litigation. Wanggaard’s amendment stripped that provision from the bill.

Proponents of the bill, however, have contended that Wanggaard’s concerns are unwarranted, saying the provision simply mirrors current practice in federal courts and still requires businesses to retain emails and other electronic documents.

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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