Accidents frequently occur in Wisconsin. More than 128,200 crashes involving motor vehicles were recorded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 2021. Around 590 people died from these collisions.
Filing a personal injury claim before a court is a feasible option to claim the compensation you deserve. As you consider navigating the claims process, this article will educate you on your legal rights in various situations. It also contains information about Wisconsin's statute of limitations and caps on damages. In addition, this article will provide a list of resources that can assist you in pursuing fair compensation for your injuries.
Wisconsin Laws on Claims Against Governmental Entities
Wisconsin ranks fifth among states with the worst road conditions, according to a 2023 Consumer Affairs report. Based on federal data, it is also one of the most unsafe states for driving during the winter. Indeed, WisDOT notes that thousands of accidents occur during the winter months.
You Can File a Lawsuit Against Local Government
Under state law, lawsuits are allowed against counties, cities, and towns for injuries caused by the three-week snow accumulation on roads. Courts consider multiple factors to determine whether a personal injury claim against a public agency is valid. These may include sidewalk traffic, location, practicality of removal, and climatic conditions. Also, city employees shoveling snow and creating a mound near a curb does not equal building an artificial or unnatural accumulation. The mound’s presence does not make the city liable for accidents.
In such cases, it is helpful to determine how to press claims against those in charge of road maintenance. If state agencies maintain the roads, personal injury claims must be directed to the Wisconsin Attorney General. The notice should contain details regarding the event and the people involved.
Meanwhile, municipalities can be held liable if the accident happens on local roads. Cities require these documents to be sent to their respective offices. Milwaukee, for example, mandates that such claims be submitted to the Office of the City Clerk. On the other hand, notices against the state capital, Madison, must go through the City of Madison’s Clerk Office first.
Laws Involving Animal Collisions in Wisconsin
“Watch out for deer” is a common expression in Wisconsin, and with good reason. State Farm reports that drivers in the Badger State have a 1 in 54 chance of being involved in animal collisions. Deer, mainly, increase the risk of these wildlife-related crashes. In fact, WisDOT recorded over 16,500 deer-involved accidents that caused at least 500 injuries and 13 deaths in 2021.
In these cases, motorists may have to rely on their insurance to cover damages from animal collisions. Policies with comprehensive coverage help drivers deal with accident expenses.
Deer are not the only animals that may be involved in road accidents in Wisconsin. It is home to more than 1.2 million cows. Livestock like stallions, rams, boars, billy goats, and bulls are also present on farms throughout the state. These animals cannot run large on highways. In other words, livestock are prohibited from roaming freely as they might cause property damage.
Wisconsin places the liability for damages caused by roaming animals on farm owners. The primary exception under state law is if the owner is taking their animals from one farm to another.
Wisconsin Laws on Owner’s Liability in Dog Attacks
Around 33% of households in Wisconsin own dogs. Although these pets are ordinarily well-behaved, attacks sometimes occur. Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, was ranked 14th among states with high cases of dog attacks against postal workers.
These cases prompt discussions on how liability is imposed on the dog owner. Under Wisconsin law, plaintiffs may obtain full damages from defendants for their dog attack-related injuries. This law applies when the owner is unaware of the dog’s previous aggressive history. In cases where the animal causes permanent disfigurement or scarring, its owner faces higher consequences. They are on the hook for two times the victim’s damages.
Those bitten by the dog may appeal before a court to order the animal’s death. State law allows pets to be euthanized if their actions meet two conditions. The first is if the dog causes severe, unjustifiable injuries to an animal or person on two separate occasions. The second is if the owner knew about their dog’s first attack.
This law does not apply to law enforcement dogs. These are exempt if their actions are performed while taking down criminal suspects.
Milwaukee residents must know that the city imposes additional requirements on individuals who own certain breeds. It mandates pit bull and rottweiler owners to maintain a kennel area with a concrete floor for their pets.
Individuals must also attend at least one dog behavior class overseen by a trainer recommended by any of the three organizations. These are the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission, the Wisconsin Humane Society, and the Milwaukee Dog Training Club.
Medical Malpractice Laws in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is one of the areas nationwide where Lyme disease occurs naturally. This illness causes a range of relatively mild symptoms. If left untreated, the disease attacks certain body parts, such as the nervous system.
To make things worse, doctors may misdiagnose the illness as something else, which worsens patient outcomes. Misdiagnosis is a form of medical malpractice. Additionally, there are other ways healthcare providers harm their patients. Some may accidentally implant medical tools inside patients after surgery, while others improperly prescribe medications.
Knowing the requirements for such a claim is crucial in Wisconsin. It is one of the states that recorded the lowest payouts for healthcare negligence. Indeed, only $56.34 million was disbursed to victims in the Badger State from 2012 to 2022. This number is far lower than in Michigan, where plaintiffs received $720 million.
Before a victim can press legal charges, they must request mediation with the liable party before a Medical Mediation Panel. The request should contain various information, including the claimant’s residential address, the patient’s name, and where the medical malpractice occurred. Mediation provides an informal way for parties to resolve their disputes without litigation. Reports or opinions from expert witnesses are not used in such proceedings unless requested by the panel or its members.
If no agreement is reached between the parties after mediation, they may proceed to trial. Both parties may then use expert witnesses in litigation proceedings. Courts allow expert testimonies to be admitted as evidence in cases requiring specialized knowledge.
Notably, the opinion of experts cannot be used as evidence if their testimony helps them gain compensation from the outcome of a case.
Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Laws
In Wisconsin, employees seem to suffer injuries or fall ill more frequently than in other states. Based on a federal survey, the illness and injury rate per 100 workers in Wisconsin is 3.2. This number is larger than the average among the survey’s 41 participating states, which is 2.7.
Knowing the process of filing workers’ compensation claims in the Badger State, therefore, is essential. Injured employees seeking benefits for accident-related expenses start with a notice to their employer within 30 days of the incident date. Note that this is not the maximum limit. Wisconsin allows claims no later than two years from the date of injury, as long as the employer was not misled about it.
The next step is for the employer to submit the First Report of Injury or Disease to their insurance carrier. This document must be sent to the insurer within seven days of the worker’s injury. The insurance company then needs to notify the Division of Workers’ Compensation — which operates under the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development — not later than 14 days from the injury date. The first payment to an employee usually begins within 14 days after they leave work to recover.
Employees should know that insurers and employers need to process claims promptly. Failure to do so means incurring penalties. For example, in businesses that inexcusably delayed the first payments to employees by 30 days when they left work to recover, compensation increases by 10%. The same penalty applies in cases where the worker has to leave their job after 14 days after the accident.
Sometimes, an insurer may decide not to cover an injured employee. They can appeal to the state’s workers’ compensation division in such cases, where they have six years from the injury date to request a formal hearing. These proceedings occur before an administrative law judge. Before this event, both parties may agree to mediation.
The parties proceed to a formal hearing if mediation does not lead to a mutual agreement. The administrative law judge provides a decision no later than 90 days following the hearing. A worker can appeal this outcome after 21 days before the Labor Industry Review Commission. Those unsatisfied with the commission’s decision may file an action with the applicable circuit court within 30 days. After 90 or 45 days, an individual can submit a claim before the Court of Appeals. The final step is a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Wisconsin Business Liability Insurance Requirements
Businesses in Wisconsin need to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. Some workers, though, are not required to be covered. These individuals include domestic servants, non-profit volunteers who earn a maximum of $10 per week, and certain religious sect members. Others consist of workers covered by various federal laws, from the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 to the Federal Employers Liability Act.
Likewise, companies that own motor vehicles must meet the state's minimum auto insurance requirements. These are:
$25,000 for the death or injury of one individual.
$50,000 for the death or injury of two or more people.
$10,000 for property damage.
Wisconsin also requires drivers to purchase insurance policies that contain uninsured motorist coverage. The minimum limit for these policies is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
Owners of specific types of vehicles face higher minimum insurance requirements. For instance, those who operate school buses should purchase liability insurance that covers $75,000 per person. The vehicle must also be insured for $150,000 per accident if it transports seven passengers or less. On the other hand, school buses with a seating capacity of 37 or more people should be insured for $1 million per accident.
Another type of vehicle is metered taxicabs. Milwaukee County mandates that those who operate these cabs within the Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport acquire insurance. The policy should contain accident coverage of at least $50,000 per person and $100,000 for two or more people.
Is Wisconsin a No-fault State?
No. Unlike its neighbors, Michigan and Minnesota, Wisconsin is an at-fault state. Plaintiffs may recover damages for their injuries from defendants. Accident victims can also go after the liable party’s insurance company to obtain compensation for medical expenses.
Individuals, in some cases, need to rely on their insurer for accident-related costs. For instance, motorists can be hit by uninsured drivers. In that situation, policies that contain uninsured motorist coverage allow accident victims to deal with immediate expenses. This coverage is helpful in Wisconsin, where around 13% of motorists do not possess insurance.
Another type of policy is comprehensive insurance. Besides accidents caused by wild animals like deer, this coverage helps drivers handle costs related to theft and vandalism.
Is Wisconsin a Modified Comparative Fault State?
Yes. Under the modified comparative fault system, plaintiffs can obtain damages from defendants. Compensation for injuries may be recovered by plaintiffs as long as their share of the accident does not exceed that of the defendant.
Note that Wisconsin courts follow the 51% bar rule. Accident victims can receive damages for their injuries if their percentage of fault is 50% or less than the liable parties. This percentage, though, diminishes the final award that plaintiffs may obtain.
To illustrate this, suppose you were hurt in an accident that resulted in $10,000 in damages. A court may rule that you are at fault for 10% of the incident. Your final award, then, decreases to $9,000. The deduction of $1,000 is to reflect your share of the accident.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin places no limits on the compensatory damages plaintiffs can recover from defendants. In other words, victims will not encounter caps on the compensation they may receive from liable parties for various costs. These include lost wages, medical expenses, and emotional distress.
The Badger State does impose limits on punitive damages. These are awards paid to plaintiffs by courts looking to punish defendants. Wisconsin caps these at $200,000 or twice the value of compensatory damages, whichever is larger.
Remember that the obtainable damages are smaller in cases involving governmental entities. The state only allows $250,000 in compensatory awards. Punitive damages cannot be recovered. This number decreases to $50,000 in cases against municipalities. In situations where volunteer fire companies caused the accident, damages are capped at $25,000.
The Statute of Limitations in Wisconsin
Plaintiffs in Wisconsin have three years to press claims against defendants. The three-year timeline also applies in wrongful death cases. In addition, individuals filing medical malpractice claims should do so within three years from the date of injury.
In some cases, the statute of limitations is shorter. For example, in wrongful death situations involving motor vehicles, the period for filing claims against defendants is two years. Another scenario is when a doctor accidentally leaves a foreign object in their patient after surgery. In that case, the victim has one year from the date of injury discovery to press legal action.
Meanwhile, if the victim is a minor, Wisconsin law allows these individuals to bring claims within two years after they turn 18.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Wisconsin
The agency has been operating since 1967. It plans, constructs, and oversees the state’s network of state highways and a portion of the Interstate Highway System. As part of its commitment to travel safety, the agency oversees 511WI, a website that allows Wisconsinites to check road conditions and view traffic speeds. It also provides information on current infrastructure projects.
Another area that the agency oversees is crash reports. Individuals involved in motor vehicle accidents may purchase these online. Note that these documents cannot be sent by fax, e-mail, or pick-up at DMV offices. One should use a device with an installed PDF reader to view these reports.
The association has been improving the justice system in Wisconsin and educating practitioners and residents about the law for more than 125 years. One of the ways it helps maintain the quality of legal practice in the state is through the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. This program allows individuals who have lost money due to dishonest lawyers to receive reimbursement from the association.
Another area that the association manages is the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS). This program allows Wisconsinites to schedule a half-hour consultation with an attorney and obtain legal help. The service may be reached at (800) 362-9082. It is open from Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. One can also access LRIS online.
For more than 150 years, the office has been promoting and maintaining a strong insurance sector in the state and protecting consumers. Its primary functions include researching the impact of special insurance-related issues in Wisconsin, issuing licenses to agents, and monitoring the financial situation of insurance companies.
The office also maintains a website that guides Wisconsinites on various topics, from auto and liability insurance to annuities and cybersecurity. In addition, it maintains a dedicated web page that enables individuals to submit complaints regarding their insurance companies. One can also reach the office by calling 1-800-236-8517.
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