Skip to Main Content

No Fees Unless We Win

(608) 784-4370

No Fees Unless We Win

(608) 784-4370

Evers Veto Highlights Costs of Catastrophic Injuries in Wisconsin Commercial Trucking Accidents

Motor vehicle accident with Semi Truck on its side

Any motor vehicle accident can lead to catastrophic injuries. But the risk of a catastrophic injury increases significantly when a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) such as an 18-wheeler is involved. The typical passenger car, truck, or minivan is at a clear disadvantage in terms of size and weight relative to a tractor-trailer. Indeed, many CMVs you see on Wisconsin’s highways carry upwards of 80,000 pounds when fully loaded with potentially hazardous cargo.

Commercial trucking companies understand all too well that their vehicles are likely to cause catastrophic injuries to innocent people in the event of an accident. And such injuries are often costly for the trucking company. If negligence on the part of the trucking company’s employees was responsible for the accident, the victims have the right to demand compensation through a personal injury claim. And when we are talking about catastrophic injuries–spinal cord damage, paralysis, third-degree burns, et cetera–that can quickly add up to millions of dollars in damages. This is why it’s important to work with a Wisconsin semi-truck accidents attorney in your case.

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages in Catastrophic Injury Cases

In any personal injury case, the victim has the right to seek both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are simply the combined out-of-pocket expenses sustained by the victim as a result of the defendant’s negligence. When it comes to catastrophic injuries, economic damages typically include not only all of the victim’s medical bills to date, but also the estimated future costs of their long-term care. Many catastrophic injuries require a lifetime of ongoing care, physical therapy, and other rehabilitation costs. In some cases, the victim also requires assistance devices or even permanent changes to their home to accommodate their catastrophic injuries. All of this falls within economic damages.

Non-economic damages, in contrast, are those losses that do not come with a convenient price tag. We often describe non-economic damages in terms of “pain and suffering” or “loss of enjoyment of life.” Essentially, we are talking about compensation for a catastrophic injury victim’s ongoing psychological trauma and diminished quality of life moving forward.

To give a simple hypothetical example, consider a teenage girl who is riding in a car that is struck by an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer. As a result of the collision, the girl loses her right leg due to amputation. Prior to the accident, the victim was an active and accomplished athlete. Now, she will never be able to play sports or even walk normally again. The ongoing psychological trauma caused by these cumulative losses would be factored into her non-economic damages when pursuing a personal injury claim against the trucking company.

Wisconsin Legislators Tried to Limit Non-Economic Damages Against CMV Companies

The commercial trucking industry is a well-organized lobby. That lobby recently exerted its influence in convincing the Wisconsin legislature to pass Senate Bill (SB) 613. The purpose of this bill was simple and straightforward: to limit the total amount of non-economic damages that a Wisconsin court could award in a personal injury lawsuit against a commercial motor vehicle carrier. In all cases, the bill proposed capping such damages at $1 million per person.

At first glance, you might think that $1 million sounds like more than enough to compensate a trucking accident victim. But you need to consider the lifelong impact a catastrophic injury can have on a victim. Is $1 million really enough to compensate a victim who suffered third-degree burns when a commercial truck carrying toxic chemicals exploded due to the truck driver’s negligence? Or what about the victim who was paralyzed after their spinal cord was severed due to a drunk trucker causing a multi-car pileup on the interstate?

Traditionally, it has been up to judges or juries to decide what constitutes appropriate non-economic damages in a personal injury case. SB 613 proposed replacing that discretion with a flat upper limit. In fact, judges and juries would still be free to determine the full amount of a victim’s non-economic damages. But the final award would still be capped at $1 million.

Are Limits on Noneconomic Damages Unconstitutional?

On March 29, 2024, Governor Tony Evers vetoed SB 613 in its entirety. In a veto message, the governor gave several reasons for his decision. First, he disagreed with the legislature’s decision to “arbitrarily” cap non-economic damages. He said that when it came to such matters, “the law should redress a party’s injury, not repress an injured party.”

Second, the governor argued that SB 613 violated the Wisconsin constitution. Specifically, the state constitution provides that every person “is entitled to a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries” to their person. Evers asserted that a cap on non-economic damages against CMV companies violated this principle.

On that note, the governor also said SB 613 would create an inconsistency in state law. He noted the bill itself did not define “non-economic” damages, nor did it contemplate how to handle a situation where multiple parties were injured in the same accident, which is quite common in accidents involving commercial trucks. As such, Wisconsin courts would “almost certainly face challenges implementing the bills provisions,” leading to even more litigation.

It is worth noting that at least one other state governor has taken a different view on this issue. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice recently signed a bill passed by his state’s legislature that also specifically caps awards of non-economic damages in personal injury claims against commercial motor vehicle carriers. Unlike SB 613, however, the West Virginia legislation imposed a significantly higher limit of $5 million.

Contact Our Wisconsin Catastrophic Injury Lawyers Today

Ascertaining the full amount of damages for a catastrophic injury is itself no simple task. There are many factors that must be considered with respect to both the victim’s economic and non-economic damages. That is why it is critically important to work with a qualified Wisconsin catastrophic injury lawyer who has experience representing clients in these types of cases. Contact Fitzpatrick, Skemp & Butler, LLC. today to schedule a free consultation with one of our truck accident attorneys.