Wisconsin Republicans Defang Consumer Law by Capping Attorney Fees That Can Be Recovered


Posted on 30th October 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

Leave it to Wisconsin Republicans to try to cut the teeth from the state’s consumer protection laws.  

Last week Republicans in the state Senate won approval of a bill that limits the attorney fees that plaintiffs can recover in consumer cases, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The bill passed in a 17-15 vote, with Democrats against the measure.


The bill will now go to the Wisconsin Assembly, which the Republicans control. No surprise what will happen there.

According to the Journal Sentinel, Republicans claim that the bill will help ensure that legal costs don’t get too high in suits involving just a small amount of money.

“Democrats said it would gut consumer protection laws,” the newspaper wrote.

And we agree.   

In the case cited by the Journal Sentinel, judges would have to act under the presumption that the most a plaintiff could recover in legal fes would be three time the amount being disputed in the lawsuit; i.e. if someone was suing for $10,000, the most they could recoup in legals fees would be $30,000.

If there was a special case where the judge thought the award should be higher, he or she could do that. But that provision is an amendment to the original bill.

This law will discourage lawyers from taking cases that deserve to be litigated, for people who have been wronged, if only for a small sum of money. Attorneys sometimes toil months and months on a case. They need to be sure that they will be reimbursed for all the hard work they have done. That ends with this new law.

As a result, lawyers may not take the case of consumer John Doe, who may be owed what seems like a small amount to some, but is a large amount to him.

The bill was prompted by a case that is perhaps an aberration, and lawyers and those wronged in consumer cases shouldn’t be punished because of it.

A Chevrolet-Pontiac dealer, GOP donor David Lynch, was sued for doing almost $5,000 worth of work on a truck without getting the owner’s approval, according to the Journal Sentinel.  Ultimately, the case was settled, with the dealer anteing up $170,000, which included $151,250 in attorney fees, the newspaper reported.

We don’t know anything more about the particulars of this case, but it did go up on appeal. That involves a lot of legal work. The plaintiff’s lawyer likely was very much due his or her $151,250.

Lynch has been pushing for a bill to limit attorney-fee awards ever since. 

So much for consumer protection in Wisconsin.