President’s Message

WDC Journal Edition: Spring 2016
By: Jeff Leavell, President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

Friends, I hope you are all enjoying the late winter or early summer, depending upon which day you are reading this issue. I have several things to report to you in this message.

First, the Wisconsin legislative session has concluded and we have a victory! The WDC's proposed amendment to the adult sponsorship law passed the Assembly and Senate and was signed by the Governor on March 1, 2016.1 Thanks to Senator Kapenga and Representative Kuglitsch for sponsoring it and advocating it so effectively. The amendment provides sponsors of minor drivers the protection of a limit on liability of $300,000 or available insurance if higher in amount. WDC worked hard to promote this legislation, with Hamilton Consulting and R.J. Pirlot representing us as lobbyists. I testified before the Assembly and the Senate, and our lobbyists persevered to keep the legislation moving. The idea for the legislation began with WDC, from an initial suggestion by Art Simpson. Congratulations to all. It is a slow and sometimes frustrating process but this success shows our efforts can result in a betterment of the law.

This session we also continued to press for a collateral source rule amendment, merely to allow the jury to know the amount of bills paid. Unfortunately, we were once again stymied. This change would be a significant and positive move; however, it affects various interest groups in different ways, making it a challenge to achieve passage. You might think that with Republican majorities in both legislative houses this legislation would find a more receptive audience. However, Republican majorities commonly look for consensus in the business community. Despite our efforts, we were unable to obtain it this session. The health insurance lobby opposed us, united obviously with the plaintiffs' lawyers lobby, seeking to keep the medical expenses fictitiously inflated. Our simple amendment would have allowed jurors to hear what amounts were paid for medical services, and use that information, along with the billed amount, to decide the proper amount to find in their verdict. In trying cases I have always been troubled by the court's instruction to juries that they should "let your verdict speak the truth," when we know the answer on medical expenses is fiction. I am hopeful in the next session that we can continue working with our partners in this legislative effort and move the law on this subject in a positive direction.

In other successes, we joined forces with others to oppose a bill that would have increased the interest rates on small claims judgments to 8 percent, and to support an amendment to the "dog bite" statute to make the double damages provision available only after a prior bite that caused permanent injury to a human, and if the owner knew the dog had previously done so.2

As I write this message, we are preparing for the WDC Board of Directors strategic planning session to be held on March 11. Thank you to those who answered the survey for it. We will use the survey results in our planning session. The session will be facilitated by a practicing defense lawyer from Indiana, John Trimble, who volunteers through DRI. We will have a frank discussion about WDC's mission, its goals, a plan for achieving them, and how to deliver better services to members. I am proud of those taking time out of their busy schedule to participate in this planning session. We have not done this in over a decade.

On the issue of that survey, you gave high marks and complements to WDC for the quality of its CLE seminars and periodic updates on the law. The Civil Trial Journal, predictably, was identified by many as a positive program. We will redouble efforts on areas that were identified for improvement, including expanding our membership beyond the traditional insurance defense world, improving access to our programming via electronic means and the website, and sponsoring events in the beautiful sections of our state outside the usual Milwaukee- Madison corridor.

And now, I have a request for you: I urge you all to submit nominations for the WDC awards. The awards are an opportunity to reward superlative service, and also an opportunity for WDC to enhance its profile as an association interested in rewarding service. The awards are a win-win, for WDC and the recipient of the award. You can nominate a person for the award by submitting your nomination to the WDC office. The available awards are:

The Advocate of the Year Award, which recognizes the member with the most successful defense work during the prior calendar year.

The Distinguished Professional Service Award, which recognizes a longtime member who has given consistent effort to grow and improve WDC.

The Government Service Award, which recognizes an individual for service to the public in a governmental capacity.

We also have the Publication Award, which recognizes a particularly well-written article in the WDC Journal, and it is selected by the WDC Journal Editor.

Lastly, I want to congratulate the active Young Lawyers Division, chaired by Danielle Rousset. The Young Lawyers Division recently held a trial preparation CLE seminar that was well attended. I especially want to thank Attorney Eric Darling for taking time out of his busy schedule to present to the group. In a few months the Young Lawyers Division will host a CLE luncheon seminar in the Madison area, so keep an eye out for that invitation. Please feel free to contact Danielle Rousset with suggestions for CLE topics, or other services you would like the Young Lawyers Division to provide, as we are always looking to serve our members' interests. The Division is raising our profile among young lawyers, and that is a necessity for the WDC to continue membership growth and to thrive.

Jeff Leavell has been a Wisconsin trial lawyer for over thirty years, with an emphasis on the defense of Wisconsin persons and businesses and insurance coverage. He is a Board-Certified Civil Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been so for over fifteen years. He has been selected as a "SuperLawyer" every year since 2006. His law firm, which he founded in 1994, has been recognized since 1995 by Martindale-Hubbell in its Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers as a Most Distinguished Law Practice. He has served on the Board of Governors and is past President of the Racine County Bar Association.

Jeff is a frequent lecturer and author on trial and various law topics, including tort, construction, environmental, and employment law, and insurance coverage for them. He was admitted to the Bar in 1983. He graduated from the University of Chicago, with honors, in 1980, and the University of Wisconsin Law School, J.D., cum laude, in 1983. He was judicial law clerk for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District IV from 1983-1985. He is the proud father of two Eagle Scouts, both now in college, and is married to attorney Georgia Herrera, whom he met in law school.

1 See 2015 Wisconsin Act 202.

2 See 2015 Wisconsin Act 112.