Sweeping Tort Reform Bill Becomes
Law in Wisconsin
By Alexander “Sandie” Pendleton

On January 27th, 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a new law that dramatically changes numerous aspects of Wisconsin tort law.  Some of these changes will benefit companies and organizations that provide sports or recreational opportunities, and/or that manufacture sports or recreational products. 

Although the new law affects numerous areas of tort law in Wisconsin, the provisions that will be of most interest to recreational-opportunity providers, and manufacturers of motorized and non-motorized recreational products, include:

  • A cap on punitive damages ($200,000 or two times compensatory damages, whichever is greater).

  • New rules making it easier for courts to punish parties or their attorneys for maintaining “bad faith” claims.

  • A new rebuttable presumption in strict products liability cases that if a claimant was legally intoxicated, such intoxication was a cause of the claimant’s injuries.

  • A new statute of repose in strict products liability cases, providing that if the product that caused the injury was more than 15 years old, the claimant’s case is barred (unless certain exceptions exist, such as the manufacturer represented that the product would last for more than 15 years).

  • A new defense in strict products liability cases providing that if the product when sold complied with relevant state or federal standards, such creates a rebuttable presumption that the product is not defective.

  • A new “inherent characteristic of the product” defense in strict products liability cases.

  • A stricter standard regarding who can provide expert testimony in trials. 

  • Changes in the comparative negligence rules in strict products liability cases.

February 1st is the effective date of the new law (2011 Wis. Act 2).  The new rules and defenses in products liability cases (especially the statute of repose and “governmental standard” changes) provide opportunities and challenges for recreational-product manufacturers, and such manufacturers should review the new law with counsel.  If we can assist you in such a review, contact us.     

PDF Version

© 2022 Pendleton Legal, S.C.

250 E. Wisconsin Ave. Suite 1800  Milwaukee, WI 53202  |  Telephone: 414.418.4469  |  Email: