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February 19, 2009

Governor Tucks Trial Bar Agenda Inside 1,700-page Budget Bill

Tuesday evening, Gov. Jim Doyle gave his budget address. One of the provisions in his plan has little, if anything, to do with the state’s spending and taxing. It is the proposal by the trial bar to increase the cost of insurance.

The governor proposes increasing by several multiples the minimum amounts of liability coverage drivers will have to buy in order to comply with the financial responsibility law. Other auto insurance provisions include allowing the “stacking” of policies, encouraging fraud in single-car accidents (by requiring UM coverage when the accident is caused by a “phantom” car), increasing paperwork, and much more.

In the area of civil justice, the governor seeks to undo many of the tort reforms that were enacted in the 1990s and have become settled law. If the trial bar’s proposals pass, defendants who are responsible for a mere 1 percent of the harm caused in an accident could end up paying the entire amount of damages. An example would be when an uninsured drunk driver causes a horrific accident. The plaintiff’s lawyer will strain to look for someone else with insurance, such as another driver or a property owner near the scene of the accident who somehow can be said to have contributed to the accident.

Another proposed change could result in findings by juries that are structured to produce larger judgments than would otherwise be the case.

These are significant public policy changes, and they need to go through the proper legislative process where there is time for analysis and public comment. Sticking the legislation in the budget greatly reduces the opportunity for scrutiny and usually creates legislative mistakes.

NAMIC urges our members to contact their legislators to let them know that the trial lawyer agenda:

  • Raises the cost of insurance and increases the number of uninsured;
  • Undermines fraud prevention; and
  • Needs to undergo the proper legislative process. Usually when politicians sneak items into massive budget bills it is because the idea cannot survive examination.

One way to bring this idea home is to point out to your legislator that the cost of driving has skyrocketed in the past years. Now that citizens are getting a little bit of a breather, the trial bar wants to put those savings in their pockets.

NAMIC will work closely on this issue with our state trade partners, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance and the Wisconsin Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

If you have any questions, please contact:

  • NAMIC State Affairs Director Joe Thesing at 614-262-4798 or at jthesing@namic.org; or
  • NAMIC State Affairs Manager Mark Johnston at 314-800-8205 or at mjohnston@namic.org.
  • Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM. Modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 10:53:57 AM.

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