Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"SCREW ACCOUNTABILITY, SAVE MONEY!" A current trend in legislative actions in Wisconsin...

While my posts normally deal with cyclists and cycling rights, today has to do with ALL USERS of roads and sidewalks. 

The Republican majority government, this year, has already severely limited the ability for injured people in Wisconsin to obtain reasonable compensation for their injuries. 

Now, legislators in Wisconsin want to do away with the minimal liability cities, villages, towns and counties have for injuries sustained as a result of highway defects.  The Assembly and Senate introduced separate bills, which say the same exact thing.  The links to the PDF’s are attached here:

The bills propose ELIMINATING MUNICIPAL LIABILITY for highway defects.

Why should I care, you ask?  Why should I continue to read this left-leaning blogger? 

Well, this bill, if passed WILL AFFECT ALL USERS OF THE ROAD!  I’m not talking just cyclists here, but drivers of cars, scooters, motorized wheelchairs, pedestrians, etc.  So unless you spend your days and nights cooped up in your home, this will affect YOU!

So, what exactly is going on here, you ask.  I’ll tell you.  Wisconsin Statute § 893.83 provides liability for damages up to $50,000 to a person or property resulting from an insufficiency or want of repair (“defect”) of a highway, which includes shoulders, sidewalks and bridges.  Thus, if you are injured while travelling upon a highway due to a defect, you can sue the proper municipality and recover up to $50,000, depending on your injuries and property damage.  This compensation is terribly minimal and may not cover all of your damages, but it is something.

However, the proposed changes to Wis. Stat. § 893.83 do not modify what a defect is, what parts of the highway are subject to liability or what the cap on damages is under this section.  No, what the proposed legislation does is COMPLETELY REMOVE LIABILITY on the part of cities, villages, towns and counties, for injuries caused by defects in a highway.

Instead of the possibility of up to $50,000 (an incredibly small amount of compensation for most personal injuries) for injuries sustained as a result of a highway defect, you will now have the wonderful possibility of receiving absolutely nothing for the injuries you sustained as a the result of a municipality’s negligence.  Maybe you will get lucky and receive an “Oops, sorry we failed to repair that bridge, but at least that pile of rocks broke your fall” letter. 

Why the proposed change?  The people who introduced the bills, Sen. Glenn Grothman (R- West Bend) and first-term Rep. Andre Jacque (R- Bellevue) claim that money saved on lawsuits will be spent on repairing roads and bridges.

As a counter-point, there is no evidence that insurance rates will drop for local governments just because municipal liability is obliterated for highway defects.  Second, very few lawsuits are filed and won against municipalities for highway defects, so it is hard to understand what, if any, money is being saved by eliminating liability. 

In fact, just look at the fiscal estimates to see that all they can do is speculate on what amount of money eliminating liability might save a municipality.  (The potential money saved is not listed, just a vague “it may save municipality money” is discussed).

Third, there is no guarantee that any money saved because of this proposal will go straight into repairing bridges and highways.

Finally, this is bad public policy and such a proposal removes ALL ACCOUNTABILITY municipalities have to those who use its highways, roadways, sidewalks and bridges.  A cap of $50,000 is not much to compensate those who sustain serious, or minor, injuries due to highway defects, but it was something.  It at least forced a municipality to BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR ITS ACTIONS (OR LACK THEREOF). 

So, even if you are not a cyclist, this proposed amendment to a statute AFFECTS ALL USERS OF THE ROAD, and as a user of the road, you should be very concerned what this might mean for you. 

It is easy to think “so what, I will never be injured by a highway defect.”  However, the time may come when you need accountability for an injury you sustained while on a highway, and it is better to have the option to hold someone accountable then to not have the option at all.

So please, oppose these bills and protect all users of the road.  The current legislative attitude of “SCREW ACCOUNTABILITY, SAVE MONEY” needs to stop.  Attitudes, and new/proposed laws like these bills, adversely impact all citizens of Wisconsin.  Officials are elected to act in the best interests of the residents of Wisconsin, and this proposed legislation does not accomplish this responsibility. 

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