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Attorney: Wisconsin Campground Immunity Bill a "Bad Idea"

A proposed immunity law for campgrounds is under fire from the Wisconsin Association for Justice. Credit: SShepard/
A proposed immunity law for campgrounds is under fire from the Wisconsin Association for Justice. Credit: SShepard/
August 10, 2015

MILWAUKEE – A proposed immunity law for Wisconsin campground owners and their employees is a bad idea, says Milwaukee attorney Ann Jacobs, head of the state trial lawyers association.

She points out the state already has 35 such laws on the books, which give businesses immunity from being held legally responsible in cases of accidents, injuries and even deaths on their property.

Jacobs says such a law proposed for campground owners and employees would take away a basic constitutional right.

"People will talk to no end about preserving their First Amendment rights,” Jacobs points out. “Their Second Amendment rights. They want to hold the government to their Fourth Amendment rights and their search-and-seizure rights. And everybody forgets about the poor Seventh Amendment, which is our right to a jury trial."

Jacobs says the proposal allows campground owners and employees to escape responsibility, even if they don't follow basic safety rules.

She says no matter how much legislators wish it were not so, people and businesses can and will act unreasonably, and the civil justice system exists to protect people from unreasonable or negligent acts.

Supporters of the proposed immunity law say there are too many burdens on business owners and their workers, but Jacobs disagrees. She lists a number of basic safety issues, including food-handling practices in snack bars and treating swimming pool water, among reasons why businesses open to the public must be held accountable.

"They drive drunk on their own campground property and run somebody over – immune,” she offers as an example. “They don't fix the faulty heater in a cabin on the property and somebody dies of carbon monoxide poisoning – immune."

Some businesses argue they can't get insurance without legal immunity, but Jacobs says that is untrue.

According to Jacobs, statistics show that Wisconsinites are highly unlikely to solve problems through litigation. But she thinks it is wrong to take away that option if someone is hurt through negligence.

"People need to be able to go to court to hold wrongdoers accountable,” she stresses. “It's the only way it works. And every time we put another bill of immunity on, we're taking away the right to go to court.

“I don't know why people are so eager to give up their constitutional rights to go to court. It surprises me."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI