Liability Reforms on Wis. Legislative Agenda

September 29, 2003

The Wisconsin General Assembly continues to hold hearings on insurance-related bills on a variety of issues including mandatory private passenger automobile insurance coverage, liability for dog bites, and product liability reform, according to the National Association of Independent Insurers.

Bills of interest include:

— “Sponsorship Coverage”: Assembly Bill 491, introduced on Sept. 8, requires auto insurers to offer “sponsorship coverage” for adults to assume liability if a minor is liable of negligence or willful misconduct. The bill calls for sponsorship coverage liability limits of at least $50,000 per person, and $100,000 per accident for bodily injury. Donald Cleasby, an attorney for NAII, said adults are already liable for such damages.

— Dog bite liability: Assembly Bill 423, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee on September 25, amends current Wisconsin law to make dog owners liable for two times the full amount of damages caused by the dog biting a person with sufficient force to break the skin if the owner was notified or knew that the dog had previously bitten a person. The legislation also increases the penalty which the dog owner must forfeit. A companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 229, had a hearing on August 21 and remains in committee. NAII, the largest property/casualty trade group, supports the bills.

— Product liability reform: The Assembly Judiciary Committee heard Assembly Bill 317 on Sept. 11, which establishes criteria to determine if a product manufacturer, distributor, assembler, or seller is liable to a person injured by the product. The bill sets forth standards that must be satisfied in order to find a manufacturer liable for damages caused by the manufacturer’s product and establishes when a manufactured product is defective. NAII supports the bill.

— Medical malpractice: Senate Bill 226 was introduced on Aug. 13 and heard by the Senate Health Committee on Sept. 4. This legislation requires that the Medical Examining Board provide public information about physicians, including education, practice, medical malpractice history, disciplinary history, and criminal history.

Also introduced on Aug. 13 and heard by the Senate Health Committee on Sept. 4 was Senate Bill 227, which changes current Wisconsin law regarding disciplinary actions involving health care professionals, the authority of the Medical Examining Board, medical malpractice reports that are required under federal law and death reports by coroners and medical examiners. NAII supports the bills.

— Municipal insurance mutuals: The Assembly Insurance Committee passed Senate Bill 176 on Sept. 9. This bill authorizes municipal insurance mutuals to provide property coverage. Under current Wisconsin law, municipalities or associations of municipalities may organize such a mutual. Current law only authorizes these mutuals to provide workers’ compensation or liability insurance coverage, or risk management services. NAII is neutral on the bill.

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