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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Issue of the Week: Joint and Several Liability

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

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If you were standing on the sidewalk, minding your own business, and two cars collided in front of you, flying up onto the sidewalk and seriously injuring you, should you be forced to pay for your high medical bills if one of the drivers doesn’t have insurance coverage? That’s the heart of the issue called Joint and Several Liability, which is being debated in the state Legislature.

Lawmakers are considering whether someone who is partly responsible for an accident should pay for all of the damages when the other person who partly caused the accident can’t pay for his or her portion of the damages. This would then cover all of the medical bills of the innocent victim—who, after all, isn’t responsible for the accident, but is paying the price for it.

Let’s go back to the car-crash scenario mentioned above. Let’s say that you were stuck with $500,000 of medical bills after all is said and done. You sue Drivers A and B, who caused the accident. The jury finds that Driver A was 60% responsible for the accident, while Driver B was 40% responsible. That would mean that Driver A should pay for 60% of the damages, or $300,000, and Driver B should pay for 40%, or $200,000.

But what if Driver A doesn’t have insurance and files for bankruptcy? Should the innocent bystander be on the hook for $300,000 simply because Driver A cannot pay for it?

Under current law, Driver B, who was 40% responsible, would have to pay $200,000, while the innocent victim would have to pay the remaining $300,000. Some Democrats in the Legislature and the governor wanted to change this current law so that, instead of the innocent victim getting stuck with a $300,000 medical bill, the person who was 40% responsible would have to cover the entire amount.

Democrats are pushing for this change, which is called Joint and Several Liability. It would protect innocent people by making at least one of the guilty parties, as long as that guilty party is more responsible for the accident than the victim, responsible for paying the bills. This would merely return the law to its roots, before Tommy Thompson and his fellow Republicans changed the terms of liability law in the 1990s. We think that Joint and Several Liability is the most fair solution in a very unfair situation.


Hero of the Week: Angelina Colton

The city has no shortage of good Samaritans these days. In addition to the citizens who came to the aid of two police officers who were wounded last week, Angelina Colton, who just graduated from South Division High School, helped save the life of an elderly ice cream vendor near South 31st and West Scott streets on June 5. When Colton noticed the vendor having a seizure, she immediately cleared the area of bystanders, dialed 911 and used her first aid training to assist the man. When paramedics arrived, Colton provided further assistance by translating for the victim, who did not speak English. Diane Rosado, a teacher at South Division, says that Colton “demonstrated incredible maturity and good use of the training she received.”


Jerk of the Week: Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff David Clarke has attacked his own state representative, Fred Kessler, for trying to put some limits on and apply some accountability to the school choice program in Milwaukee. Currently this program is costing Milwaukee taxpayers an extra $150 per $100,000 value in property taxes. Now, many people might not complain about extra taxes to educate children if the voucher schools actually showed better results than the Milwaukee Public Schools, but they don’t. Study upon study has shown no better test results by the “choice” school children, and considering that there is a self-selection process by concerned parents, that self-selection alone should result in higher test scores. Milwaukee taxpayers and their children are paying a high price in both higher property taxes and non-certified teachers just to prop up a failed experiment of the right-wing ideologues. If Sheriff Clarke spent more time trying to manage the sheriff’s department so the county could quit paying for the lawsuits stemming from his mismanagement and less time trying to be some kind of education expert, we would all be much better off.