Friday, August 14, 2015

Statute of Limitations, Immunity, and less compensation for dog bite victims

First up today, I would like to discuss 2015 Assembly Bill 223 / 2015 Senate Bill 149, which were introduced in May, but are now gathering momentum.

This bill would reduce the Statute of Limitations in contract automobile accident cases involving injury claims under Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage, or for property damage claims.  The current Statute of Limitations for most claims involving contracts is 6 years from the date of injury.  The Wisconsin Legislature would like to reduce the Statute of Limitations to 3 years from the date of injury or loss.

In standard automobile accident cases (cases where you would sue another party and not your own insurance company, as mentioned above) the Statue of Limitations, for injury or death to an individual(s) is 3 years from the date of the injury or loss.  The bill would keep the 3 year Statue of Limitations for injury claims, but would change the Statute of Limitations to 2 years for a wrongful death claim.

Other than the obvious -- the legislature wanting to potentially bar claims by people who wait too long to hire an attorney and file suit and bar legitimate claims -- I cannot seem to find the point in changing the Statute of Limitations.  Although, I guess that would be the exact point.

I have never heard anyone complain the Statutes of Limitations currently in place are too long and need to be changed.   Though, I guess someone has said something to their legislator if a bill is now in the works.  Or maybe it is Governor Walker in the background, again urging "Tort Reform" and his little minions doing his bidding.

At any rate, reducing the Statute of Limitations on these types of claims will definitely not benefit the injured party.  They could be barred by waiting too long.  A lawsuit could have to be filed to preserve the Statute of Limitations on a claim that would normally settle within the 3 or 6 years Statute, thus increasing needless litigation and further clogging already congested court dockets.  Not to mention, added expense for the plaintiff's lawyer in terms of costs on the case (which, if a case settles or a plaintiff wins at trial, come out of the injured individual's money in the end).

Also, if a Uninsured or Underinsured claim has to be brought within 3 years, the same time limit as a personal injury claim against another party, that could potentially mean the underlying claim will be unable to be resolved in a prudent manner to allow an informed decision on whether or not a UM or UIM claim is actually necessary.  Again, this could lead to TWO concurrent lawsuits, in order to persevere the SOL, and my guess is the UM or UIM lawsuit would then have to be stayed in order for the personal injury lawsuit to play out and see whether a UM or UIM claim is actually needed.

Further, assuming after the first lawsuit a UM or UIM claim is needed, would the plaintiff have to provide a Vogt notice regarding the judgment rendered and allow the UM or UIM carrier to substitute funds or not, and then proceed?  I don't know.  What it probably will lead to is increased litigation over these vary issues, which seem not to be thought of or addressed at all by those proposing the bill.

I am sure more issues will arise, but these are my initial thoughts on the bill.

Moving on, I would now like to look at 2015 Senate Bill 131 - Immunity of Private Campgrounds.

The bill is straightforward: it grants ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY for a private campground, private campground owners or operators and any employees and agents of the private campground from civil liability for damage to property or for the DEATH or INJURY to an individual that is caused by or occurred during the use of the campground. The only exception is if the acts that caused injury or death were caused by a willful or wanton (intentional) act or an omission of the owner, operator, employee or agent.

This is just outrageous and absurd.  Unless someone working for the campground commits an intentional act or there is some sort of omission (failure to do something) no one owning, operating or working for the private campground can be sued for negligence of any kind.

That is immunity to not care, at all, not one bit, about the individuals who pay to use a private campground.  This is simply a bill to allow private campground owners to keep taking and making money, without any accountability or responsibility to the patrons.

Finally, very briefly, there is believed to be a bill in the works that would either eliminate double damages in dog bite cases or limit double damages to cases where there has been tow actual bites (not sure if this is specifically to the injured person during the attack or the dog has bitten 1 person or 2 people before the latest attack) and there is permanent damage to the individual.

All I can comment on it at this early stage is that it is another clear bill aimed at reducing or limiting compensation to injured individuals while alleviating responsibility on owners or dogs or dangerous animals and the insurers of those owners.