If you are a Wisconsin resident who is involved in an injury-related lawsuit or insurance claim, knowledge of some of the state laws that might apply to your case can help demystify the process. In this article, we'll provide an overview of key Wisconsin laws that might come into play in personal injury cases.
All states have laws called "statutes of limitations," which set out the time limits for filing a lawsuit after you've suffered some type of harm. For personal injury cases in Wisconsin, the time limit is three years. This means that your lawsuit must be filed in a Wisconsin state court within three years of the date of your accident, or it will not be heard at all, unless a rare exception applies to extend the filing period. So, it is absolutely essential to be aware of -- and comply with -- this time limit. You can read the details of this law at Wisconsin Statutes section 893.54.
Note that this deadline applies to most, but not all, Wisconsin lawsuits seeking compensation for losses related to a physical injury. Wisconsin, like most states, has legislated a specific statute of limitations for lawsuits over injuries caused by medical malpractice, for example. Learn more about Wisconsin medical malpractice laws.
It is also important to be aware of Wisconsin laws relating to shared fault for an accident or injury. In some cases, a defendant will argue that you are partially at fault for your accident, which could impact your ability to recover compensation for your injuries.
Wisconsin follows a comparative fault system, which means that even if you are partially to blame for the accident, you can still recover for your injuries.
Under the comparative fault rule, the amount of compensation you can receive from other at-fault parties will be reduced by a percentage that equals your share of fault. So, if your total losses resulting from your injuries (medical bills, lost income, and so forth) equal $5,000, but you're also 20 percent to blame for the accident, you would be able to collect $4,000 from the other parties ($5,000 less 20 percent equals $4,000).
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Wisconsin however, a specific statute (Wisconsin Statutes section 174.02) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning no matter the circumstances, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.
A number of states have enacted laws that place a cap on the amount of damages available to an injured plaintiff in certain kinds of cases. Wisconsin has two main laws that may impact an injury case.
For medical malpractice cases only, a Wisconsin statute caps non-economic damages (which includes compensation for pain and suffering and lost enjoyment of life) at $750,000. But note that in July 2017, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled that the state's $750,000 cap on non-economic damages is "unconstitutional on its face." The decision is almost certain to be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which could issue a definitive ruling on the issue, so stay tuned.
In all injury cases, punitive damages in Wisconsin are limited to $200,000, or two times the award of compensatory damages, whichever amount is greater. Punitive damages are rarely recoverable in injury cases, and they require a showing of extreme or outrageous conduct on the part of the defendant. Learn more about punitive damages in injury cases.
If your injury was caused by a Wisconsin municipality or the State of Wisconsin, special time limits and other rules apply. The key rule to remember is that you only have 120 days in which to file a notice of claim against the city, town or state government. This does not necessarily mean that you must file a lawsuit within that time, but you must formally (in writing) put the government entity on notice of your claim before the 120 day limit expires.
Most states have administrative processes that precede litigation, but if you do not put the entity on notice of your claim as required by the rules in Wisconsin, you may not be able to file a lawsuit later on. Learn more about making an injury claim against the government.