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Wisconsin: Auto Insurance Portions of Trial Lawyers’ Agenda Passes; Slimmed Down Version Crosses the Finish Line as Governor Vetoes Provisions

NAMIC’s state trade association partner, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, reports that AB 75, the state budget bill, was signed by Gov. Doyle, but only after he vetoed parts of the trial attorneys’ agenda that remained in the bill.

At the start of the legislative session, trial lawyers and their political friends attempted to sneak pass the public a roll back of the state’s tort reform laws as well as an increase in automobile policy requirements by tucking them into the state budget bill. The thinking of many was that the size of that bill plus the critical issues involved with it would shield the trial attorney agenda from the sort of scrutiny it could never withstand if it were a separate bill.

If that was the trial lawyers’ strategy, it was a mixed success. Soon after the bill’s introduction, a broad coalition of employers, local governments, consumers, and insurers objected, pointing out that in a period of financial downturn Wisconsin should not enact job-killing tort legislation. As the grassroots continued, bit by bit provisions of the special interest legislation were removed from the bill.

At the end of last week, the Legislature passed the bill and, as noted, the governor signed it. While the grassroots effort led by WIA, as well as the Wisconsin Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, resulted in success, many of the auto insurance cost drivers, unfortunately, remained.

Among the victories for insurance consumers were:

  • • The gutting of liability reforms was stopped. Had it remained, trial lawyers could have structured lawsuits so that persons with even just 1 percent of fault could have been required to pay the entire amount of damages while more-at-fault parties paid nothing.
  • • The child support claim intercept provision was removed. While no one wants children to be denied the support they are owed, this provision would have created a huge backlog of claims and increased administrative overhead while doing little to solve the problem.
  • • The prohibition on using vehicle garaging location as a rating factor was deleted.
  • • The minimum liability limits were increased but not to the extent first proposed. The introduced bill would have required $100/300,000 bodily injury and $25,000 property damage coverage; now the limits will be $50/100,000 bodily injury and $15,000 property damage.
  • • The governor vetoed the “drive other car” prohibition.

In addition to the liability limit increases, the bill adds the following requirements to auto insurance policies:

  • • The bill makes underinsured motorist coverage mandatory.
  • • The minimum UM and UIM coverages are to become $100/300,000.
  • • Umbrella and excess coverage policies must offer in writing UM and UIM coverage; any rejection must also be in writing.
  • • The minimum medical payments coverage is $10,000, although coverage can be rejected.
  • • Policies must cover accidents where the insured was “run off the road” and there was no collision if there is a third-party witness to the accident. The original bill did not require the witness.
  • • Policies are prohibited from having stacking bans and reducing clauses; the conference committee changed the stacking ban to allow limiting the stacking to three cars.
  • • The insurance history of the insured can no longer be a rating factor.
  • • Auto insurance is now compulsory.

NAMIC commends the Legislature for coming to the understanding that the rollback of tort reform was a significant job killer. In addition, we applaud our members who made the effort to educate their legislators on that issue as well as the fact that the auto insurance cost drivers will cause a real hit on low- and moderate-income families’ wallets. It is unfortunate, however, that at the same time the state was mandating the carrying of coverage, it was also increasing its cost to the consumer.

Andy Franken of WIA and Misha Lee of WIA’s legislative committee should be commended for the work they did on AB 75. Several months ago, the trial bar thought it had a clear path to the basket for an easy lay up. Franken initiated an aggressive educational effort and outreach program that derailed the tort reform rollback and moderated the auto insurance cost drivers. In the current political environment, a complete victory was never possible, but our membership knows that without their work, the economic climate for Wisconsin insurance consumers would be much worse.

Direct questions or request for additional information on the requirements of AB 75 to NAMIC State Affairs Manager Mark Johnston.