MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- A national tort reform group is backing an effort by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin to revise the state's lemon law.
The American Tort Reform Association said in a statement Wednesday it supports Assembly Bill 200 and its companion, Senate Bill 182.
AB 200, which was referred to the Assembly's Judiciary Committee earlier this month, would revise Wisconsin's current law to erase mandatory consumer damage awards. It also would allow car manufacturers more time in delivering a replacement, or refund.
ATRA argues that the state's current law "accrues too often to the outsized benefit of certain self-proclaimed lemon lawyers," threatens important auto industry jobs and protects consumers no better than more balanced laws in other states.
"AB 200 and its companion, SB 182, will remove the threat of automatic double damages in current law, which drives unscrupulous personal injury lawyers to obstruct good-faith efforts by manufacturers and effectively punishes any manufacturer who dares to defend such efforts in court," ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.
Joyce said state Rep. Bill Kramer and Sen. Jerry Petrowski, both Republicans, deserve credit for "courageously conceding" that the state's current law is the least fair and balanced in the nation.
"Rather than providing giant jackpots for lawyers who sometimes view their clients' interests as secondary to their own," Joyce said, referring to Betz v. Diamond Jim's Auto Sales, a case now on appeal to the state Supreme Court, "this sound reform legislation puts the focus on making car and truck buyers happy with their purchases."
ATRA contends that the proposed revisions take nothing away from consumers.
"They'd retain their right to pursue a lawsuit, to collect damages and reasonable attorney fees, and Wisconsin courts would still be free to order additional equitable relief as they see fit," Joyce said. "In fact, this legislation does nothing other than apply the brakes to runaway lawyers, whose costly antics are ultimately paid for by all car and truck buyers."
Among other things, the reform would clarify the definition of "out of service," provide more time for a dealer to replace a defective vehicle with a comparable vehicle, reset the deadline if a consumer changes his or her mind about wanting a refund or comparable vehicle, require that a consumer's refund request to a manufacturer be accompanied by a state Department of Motor Vehicles-approved form with all necessary information, allow negotiated settlements as an alternative to a refund or comparable new vehicle, and establish a 24-month statute of limitations.
But some consumers argue that removing the mandatory double damages clause also gets rid of any leverage they have to force companies to replace their "lemons."
The state's self-proclaimed Lemon Law King, Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna, is leading a push against the bill.
The La Crosse Tribune reported last week that Megna -- at one point, a candidate for the state Supreme Court -- sent a letter to state car dealers, telling them they should oppose the proposed legislation.
If the bill passes, Megna said he will start filing lawsuits under federal consumer protection statutes, according to the newspaper.
In February, Megna lost to Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack and Marquette University law professor Edward Fallone in the state's primary.
Roggensack went on to retain her seat on the court in the state's April general election.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.