On JSOnline yesterday there was a post about Pothole Liability in Wisconsin. ( You can read it here, Potholes , and I love how an important issue like this is not addressed by the newspaper itself, but instead by the AP. Nice!)
I wrote a blog post on this exact issue February 1, 2012, entitled "Seriously Injured." You can visit this post via the archives on the right of this blog, or click here: Seriously Injured .
In a nutshell, cities, towns, villages, municipalities, etc., have, except in very specific circumstances, immunity from maintaining their roadways. YES, you read that correctly. Perhaps that is why, as you are driving or biking over the Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa, you notice a gazillion potholes starring you in the face. There is no incentive for the city to fix those potholes in a timely fashion, or at all for that matter.
Of course the "reasoning" behind this move is that cities, etc., claim they will have less suits to defend, and presumably, more money to use to fix roads.
First, bullshit. Governments always try to insulate themselves with immunity because they can. And of course, they cite lawsuits as the main reason immunity is needed. (Damn, here comes that trial lawyer, with his frivolous claim that his client was killed when his client's vehicle struck a pothole and was forced off the road into a tree. We need to stop such coldhearted actions NOW!)
Second, there was a cap on damages at $50,000 prior to immunity. Considering that these type of lawsuits were few and far between anyway, I fail to see how saving a potential maximum of $50,000 in a lawsuit is of much benefit. Not to mention the lawyers representing the cities earn a salary from the city and are not some $400/ hour lawyer hired to defend such lawsuits. Also, considering the amount of potholes I see every day just traveling around Milwaukee, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this "extra cash" is not being used to fix roadways. Just sayin'.
Third, Wisconsin cities, towns, etc., already receive considerable state and federal funding for roadways. Again, see point #2.
Finally, a potential maximum payout of $50,000 was already somewhat of a deterrent to take such a case. Depending on the injuries (see the JSOnline article), $50,000 may be nowhere near the money needed to compensate and injured person. Such a cap can deter plaintiffs attorneys from taking a case as the firm may spend more to prove a case than a firm is able to recoup. (Same logic is applied by those who passed caps in other areas such as medical malpractice and nursing home cases- if we cannot bar legal claims, lets make it extremely financially burdensome for a plaintiff's attorney to bring a claim at all.)
All in all, this is just another blow to the face, potentially literally for those who travel the roads. Citizens of this state are continually having rights stripped or curtailed in the name of "tort reform" or "jobs" or "budget surplus." Fancy wordplay, but the question is really at what expense to the citizens of Wisconsin and those truly injured individuals who must suffer mentally, physically and financially at the sword of "immunity."
Think about that when you next see a pothole (or a hundred) while commuting.