Contractor Liability Bill Heads to Assembly

Legislation that that could decrease contractors’ legal costs and liability has received a boost that could have it before the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday, the last day lawmakers in that chamber plan to meet this legislative session.

The proposal, Assembly Bill 773, calls for a series of changes to the state’s civil-litigation rules. Among other things, it would curtail the state’s construction statute of repose, which contractors commonly invoke when defending themselves against personal-injury lawsuits alleging negligent design. Current law bars lawsuits involving injuries that occurred more than 10 years after a given construction project had come to an end. AB 773 proposes reducing that window to six years.

Although enjoying support from industry groups like the Wisconsin Builders Association, the proposal had appeared to be stalled in the Assembly Judiciary Committee with little chance of being sent to the full Legislature for a vote. But, late on Monday, lawmakers arrived at a compromise that will seemingly allow the bill to advance and the bill was scheduled for a vote before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Among the proposed changes to the bill is one that would give plaintiffs an additional year to sue contractors over allegations of negligent designs. Rather than six-year limit in the current version of AB 773, the amendment would allow lawsuits to be filed within seven years of a project’s wrapping up.

The committee adopted that amendment on Tuesday and voted 6-3 to give the bill a favorable recommendation.

The bill’s next stop is the Assembly. Should it pass there, AB 773 still needs to be voted on by the full Senate and signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Separately from the construction statute of repose, the proposal would make various changes to procedures used to gather information during litigation, placing time limits on depositions, restricting how many depositions could be requested and changing rules governing what electronically stored information parties must either retain or produce.

Although these changes appear unrelated to construction, supporters of the bill have contended they could cause contractors who are involved in litigation to spend less money and time responding to discovery requests.