Wisconsin Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Wisconsin’s 600 or so annual road fatalities rank it about average among the states in terms of road safety. If you are a victim with a personal injury claim or a probate estate representative with a wrongful death claim, your claim will be governed by Wisconsin state law. Please see below for some of the basic principles applicable to road accidents.

Statute of Limitations: In Wisconsin you have three years (from the date of the accident) to file a personal injury lawsuit. Although you have six years to file a property damage lawsuit, you need to meet the three-year deadline if you want to combine both personal injury and property damage claims in a single lawsuit. You have three years from the date of the victim’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: When the victim is partly at fault, Wisconsin applies a “modified comparative fault” principle to assign each party a percentage of fault. If the victim was at least 51 percent at fault, his claim will be thrown out of court. If he was 50 percent or less at fault, his damages will be reduced in direct proportion to his degree of fault.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Wisconsin is not a “no-fault” road accident liability state – a plaintiff can file a claim directly against the at-fault party without exhausting his own insurance resources first.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: Wisconsin drivers must purchase liability insurance covering no less than $50,000 per injured victim, $100,000 in aggregate personal injury damages per accident, and $15,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Wisconsin drivers must purchase insurance covering damages inflicted by uninsured drivers. Minimum coverage limits are $25,000 per injured victim and $50,000 in aggregate personal injury damages per accident. Although there is no legal requirement to purchase insurance for damages by inflicted by underinsured drivers, if such insurance is purchased, minimum coverage limits are $50,000 per injured victim and $100,000 in aggregate personal injury damages per accident.

Types of Damages Available: Compensatory damages are available. Although economic damages are not subject to a cap, in wrongful death cases, non-economic damages (such as for mental anguish) are capped at $350,000 for adult victims and $500,000 cap for victims who were minors. Punitive damages are not available in wrongful death cases.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, subject to comparative fault principles.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Unlike most states, Wisconsin imposes no limitations on the amount of money damages you can seek from the state government.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders under 18 must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: Occupants aged 8 and older must buckle up. The maximum fine for a first offense is $10.

Dram Shop Law: Licensed alcohol vendors and private social hosts can be held liable to injured third parties for serving minors (under 21), if the minor later injures the third party due to his intoxication. There is no such liability for serving intoxicated adults who are at least 21 years old.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): A first-offense DUI (known as OUI in Wisconsin) does not result in jail time absent aggravating circumstances such as an injury accident. The fine is between $150 and $300 (plus court costs), and a driver’s license suspension of six to nine months applies.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: A driver suspected of DUI/OUI who refuses a breathalyzer, blood or urine test will lose his driver’s license for one year, with no guarantee that he won’t be convicted of DUI/OUI anyway.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is banned in Wisconsin. Cell phone use is completely banned for drivers on Learner’s or Intermediate licenses, even hands-free versions.