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WI Civil Justice: Fact Versus Fiction

May 18, 2009

Madison, WI - A new book by two University of Wisconsin law professors raises questions about the need to solve a problem that may not exist. There have been calls by politicians to reform the state civil justice system to limit awards that go to plaintiffs, but those calls for action could be based on faulty information, according to UW law professor Susan Steingass. She co-authored the volume titled Civil Justice in Wisconsin – A Fact Book.

"This debate has been remarkably unaccompanied by statistics, in the past."

Steingass says calls for tort reform are just not based in fact.

"We stack up very low in litigation, very low in plaintiffs' awards, and certainly in medical malpractice."

Steingass says sensational reporting of huge awards has driven some of the calls for reform. One such story involved spilled coffee at a fast-food restaurant.

"But they are very rare and usually, as in the McDonald's case, when you hear the story about the case, you don't hear the whole story."

Steingass says Wisconsin continued to rank well below the national average in cases involving awards to plaintiffs, ranking 31st among the 50 states. According to the National Center for State Courts, in 2005 Wisconsin’s tort caseload was 26 percent below the national median rate. Those supporting tort reform claim the courts are clogged and judgments are too generous.

Civil Justice in Wisconsin – A Fact Book, is by Steingass and fellow UW law professor Marc Galanter.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI