Personal Injury Laws & Lawsuits in Wisconsin
A guide for accident victims
You’re injured and need financial help to recover. After an accident where you weren’t fully at fault, you can’t act too soon. The longer you wait, the more opportunity everyone else has to build a case against you. At the same time, you’re expected to make decisions you weren’t prepared for – and you only get one chance to claim the money you need.
You shouldn’t need a law degree to get a fair payout
Wisconsin's personal injury laws are supposed to protect the rights of people who were injured because of another person’s negligence. The legal teams working for the other side know them inside and out – do you? Get informed and claim what’s rightfully yours.
On this page:
- Who can file an injury claim or lawsuit
- What you can sue for
- Claims against state or local government
- How much time you have to file
- Why fault matters
- Damages & how much you can get
- How long lawsuits take
- Whether or not to hire a lawyer
No win, no fee. Pay no legal costs until we win a settlement or jury award in your favor.
When you partner with our personal injury law firm we’ll help you through the financial aspects of your claim so you can focus on getting better.
Your best bet to secure maximum compensation is teaming up with a personal injury attorney the insurance companies are reluctant to fight. We offer free consultations, wherever you are in Wisconsin.
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Requirements for a personal injury claim or lawsuit
If someone else is at fault for your injuries, you have the right to file a personal injury claim. A person, business, organization or even government body can be at fault.
To be successful, an injury claim has to prove 3 things:
When the law is involved, negligence means a failure to behave with a reasonable amount of care. A specific action (like texting while driving) can be negligent. Failing to act can also be negligent when there’s a duty of care (like a store owner who knows about a broken railing but doesn’t fix it).
If the texting driver crashed into your car and you suffered a head injury in the accident, their negligence caused your injury. If an unsuspecting customer fell and hurt themselves because of a broken railing, negligent operation of the premises caused the injury. If the store manager had the railing fixed but it turned out to be defective, the product manufacturer could be found liable.
Sound obvious? The law still requires proof. You’ll have to show how the head injury (from the example above) harmed you. Medical bills, missed work, headaches and any emotional distress (such as insomnia, or anxiety when driving) would all have to be proven.
Proving negligence in personal injury claims can be challenging and complex. Especially when lawyers representing the opposing side are actively trying to harm your case. By partnering with an experienced attorney who loops in the right professionals and prepares for a full jury trial it sends a strong message (and usually results in a larger settlement offer).
In the vast majority of cases, the negligent party’s insurer pays the damages. If the person who caused your accident doesn’t have insurance, your own policy may kick in. There can also be “hidden” sources of liability and coverage a skilled attorney can uncover.
Claim vs lawsuit
Filing a personal injury claim is the first step. The claims process will likely include a mountain of paperwork, frequent communication with insurance adjusters, and a series of negotiations. The goal is to agree on a settlement amount both sides are happy with.
If a settlement can’t be reached using negotiation, the next step is filing a personal injury lawsuit. This involves even more paperwork and numerous legal proceedings. The goal is to win at trial by convincing a jury to award a fair settlement amount.
In most cases (upwards of 90%) after a personal injury lawsuit is filed with the court, the insurance company decides to increase their offer and settle rather than leave the outcome up to a jury. This is just one of the reasons why consulting a car accident insurance lawyer is in your best interest after sustaining an injury caused by negligence.
How Wisconsin tort law works
“Tort” is a legal term for doing something wrong and causing injury. Tort law is personal injury law.
Wisconsin tort law affects your personal injury claim by:
- Limiting the amount of time you have to seek compensation
- Allowing more than one person to share blame for the accident
- Applying different rules when a government body or employee is involved
When it’s possible (and worthwhile) to sue
One of the most common (and complicated) questions injury lawyers answer is “Can I sue for…?” The answer depends on the type of injuries, sources of liability and the ability to provide evidence.
Severity of injury
A car wreck resulting in a broken neck, crushed ankle or other servere injuries is a devastating event, and victims desperately need and deserve adequate compensation to deal with the aftermath.
On the other hand if a slip and fall accident resulted in a bruised knee but no significant medical costs or missed work, it might not be in your best interests to pursue an injury claim. Even if unsafe conditions caused the fall, the amount you could potentially recover in a lawsuit would be unlikely to be worth your time and legal fees.
It can be hard to put an accurate number on the total losses caused by an injury. Settle too quickly, and the injury you thought was minimal could have costly repercussions down the road (in the form of follow-up treatments, lingering pain or lost earning capacity you hadn’t considered at the time).
If you’re not sure whether you should pursue compensation, talk to a personal injury lawyer. The consultation is free, and the advice could make all the difference to your financial future.
Sources of liability
One of the reasons it’s so important to have adequate auto insurance is because some drivers have none at all. If you’re injured by an uninsured driver with few financial assets, it’s your own uninsured motorist policy that provides compensation. If your injuries cost you a total of $85,000 in medical costs, vehicle damage and lost wages, but you only have a $50,000 uninsured motorist policy, you’re on the hook for the remaining expenses.
If you're injured on a commercial property, the business owners' insurance may not be the only source of liability. Depending on the details of the accident, a third-party contractor (with their own liability insurance) could be partly at fault. If a defective product was partly to blame for your accident then the manufacturer could be found liable.
Sources of liability aren’t always obvious, and in some cases they’re deliberately obscured. Working with a personal injury attorney can uncover additional ways of getting the compensation you deserve.
Proving your case
It isn’t enough to say you were injured and what it cost you. The law requires evidence, which can be difficult to provide without help.
Steve Caya works with a network of specialists to gather evidence and build a strong case supporting your claim. He follows every possible lead to name all relevant parties and sources of liability, including accident reconstruction experts if needed. He’ll evaluate the long-term implications of your injuries and secure testimony from actuaries and life-care planners to associate hard numbers with the overall impact of your losses.
Suing the state or local government in Wisconsin
Special rules apply when an injury claim involves a government agency or employee (for example your car was hit by a city bus, or you sustained a slip and fall injury in a school). If a Wisconsin municipality or the State of Wisconsin is at fault (or partially at fault) for your injury, you MUST file a notice of claim to the appropriate government entity within 120 days.
This isn’t the same as filing a lawsuit. It’s a written notice informing them of your injury and claim to compensation. If you fail to do this before time runs out, or if you don’t include all the information they require, you won’t be able to sue.
After receiving the notice the government will most likely deny your claim, at which point you have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation.
Injury claims and government immunity
In general, injuries caused by the negligent behavior of public employees, or unsafe conditions on government property, are only compensated under certain circumstances. There’s an old concept called “Sovereign Immunity” that’s still largely in place, with exceptions carved out only for specific cases.
Bringing a personal injury lawsuit against a government agency can be highly complex and have rigid requirements. Your best shot of successfully getting compensated for injuries caused by government negligence is hiring an attorney.
Wisconsin statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits
Waiting can only cost you
In Wisconsin you have three years (starting from when you were injured) to file a personal injury claim. Your case doesn’t have to resolve within three years, just get filed. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have plenty of time - it’s in your own best interest to get started as soon as possible.
The longer you wait, the harder it is to gather evidence supporting your claim.
The longer you wait, the less bargaining power you have in settlement negotiations. Insurers are well aware of the statute of limitations, and they’ve been known to deliberately delay the process to their advantage.
When the time’s up and you no longer have the right to file a lawsuit, you’ll be stuck with whatever the insurance company is willing to offer.
Exceptions to the three-year time limit
- If the accident involved the government you only have 120 days to notify them of your claim.
- The statute of limitations can be tolled (postponed) for injured minors, so the three year countdown starts on their 18th birthday.
- Wrongful death lawsuits also have a three-year limit, except when the cause of death involves a motor vehicle—then you only have two years.
- If the injured victim has a disability (other than mental illness) the time limit may be extended to two years after the disability ends.
There may be other exceptions to the personal injury statute of limitations, and talking to a lawyer is the best way to understand how much time you have and how to protect your right to compensation.
Wisconsin’s comparative negligence law
Is Wisconsin a no fault insurance state?
No. Proving fault is required if you want to successfully claim compensation for your injuries. Because of Wisconsin’s comparative negligence law, the fault of everyone involved in the accident must be established.
How WI law defines negligence
Someone is negligent (by law) if they do something, or fail to do something, that a “reasonable person” would recognize as creating an unreasonable risk of injury. A driver going 60 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood would qualify as negligent because they failed to use “ordinary care.”
Under comparative negligence law, the driver of a car they hit could also be partly at fault. Maybe the second driver failed to come to a full stop at a stop sign right before the collision, and could have avoided the accident if they had properly looked both ways.
Comparative negligence means assigning blame in percentages. In this example the first driver might be 90% at fault but the second driver was 10% at fault, which is called contributory negligence.
How fault affects your compensation
The amount of damages available to the victim is reduced by the percentage of blame they share.
In this example, if the second driver was injured and had a claim for $50,000, they’d only be entitled to collect $45,000 (90% of the total) because they were found 10% to blame.
Under comparative negligence law, you can only file a personal injury claim if you’re 50% or less at fault for the accident.
Whenever possible, lawyers representing the mostly-at-fault person (or their insurer) will argue other parties are partly to blame in order to reduce the amount they have to pay.
It’s important to have an experienced attorney on your side to make sure you’re not unfairly found at fault. If you've been hurt in a crash, find out what else you should now before filing a car accident lawsuit in Wisconsin.
Damages & caps in Wisconsin
What do lawyers mean by damage/damages?
The law uses the word “damage” to refer to all different types of harm and loss you can suffer. Injuries, medical bills, property damage, physical pain, emotional distress and loss of income are all examples of damage.
“Damages” is the legal term for compensation (typically money) a victim receives to help make up for their losses.
Wisconsin law places the following caps on damages:
Special damages: No cap
- $750,000 cap for medical malpractice claims
- $250,000 cap for claims against the state government
- $50,000 cap for claims against a municipal government
Punitive damages are capped at $200,000 – OR double the amount of special damages, whichever is more. However there is no cap on punitive damages if the accident was caused by a drunk driver.
Remember, Wisconsin’s comparative negligence law can reduce the amount of damages you’re able to claim, based on the amount of fault you share for causing the accident.
Types of damages in personal injury lawsuits
Special damages (also called economic damages) compensate you for losses you can count and add up. Your medical expenses, lost wages from not being able to work, the cost of fixing or replacing a vehicle, the gas you used to drive to and from physical therapy (and the cost of that therapy) are just a few examples of special damages you can claim.
General damages (aka non-economic damages) compensate you for subjective harm and loss, like pain and suffering, loss of consortium (meaning the injuries prevent you from being intimate with your spouse, among other things) and loss of enjoyment (when your injuries keep you from enjoying things you used to do before the accident, like sports or travel).
General damages also cover anticipated future losses caused by the accident. This can include loss of earning capacity and future medical expenses that will be required by your injuries.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded, and only in cases with “gross negligence.” Gross negligence is worse than a failure to exercise ordinary care. It’s reckless behavior without any care for the safety of other people.
Punitive damages are paid to the victim, but they’re meant to punish the offender. Blatant disregard for the rights of others, deceit, and intent to cause harm are the types of acts that could merit punitive damages (for example another driver intentionally crashes into your car because he thought you cut him off in traffic).
Fair is fair – don’t settle for less
An experienced personal injury attorney will take into consideration all the possible damages that apply to your case, and help you arrive at a number that accurately represents your total losses.
Some damages are easier to calculate than others. Expenses like an emergency room bill have a clear monetary value. Pain and suffering is harder to pin a dollar amount on. Let’s say you have recurring headaches and insomnia ever since the accident– it’s a loss, but getting compensated for it can be complicated.
If you settle too early or on your own, you run the risk of realizing later on that your actual damages add up to way more than what you settled for. At that point it will be too late to claim further compensation.
Know what your case is worth
When you’re injured because of someone else’s negligence, you’re entitled to claim compensation equal to ALL the harm you suffer. This includes your out-of-pocket costs, interference in your daily life and any resources spent dealing with the consequences of the accident.
The contrast between your life before the accident and your life after the accident is what shows the value of your claim.
Compensation is secured, not calculated
Evidence from the accident scene, evidence of injury and treatment, discrepancy in testimony, employment history, ability to work, and life expectancy all contribute to the value of your claim. There’s no formula or algorithm to determine the final amount.
If the opposing team can prove you were partly at fault it can reduce your compensation. If they can confuse you, frustrate you, and get you to contradict yourself (even in a small way) they will use that to attack the legitimacy of your claim.
Burn this fact into your memory:
It may seem like you’re just having a phone conversation with an insurance adjuster, and they could even be a truly nice person. But they’re also highly trained and backed by an entire legal department. Collectively, everyone working for the insurance company is actively working against you to minimize how much money their employer pays out.
The single biggest factor affecting your financial outcome
How much you’re entitled to is one thing. How much you’re able to collect depends on the quality of the attorney representing your interests.
Steve Caya involves any and all experts needed, including accident investigators, medical professionals and rehabilitation specialists to build the strongest possible case. He has over three decades of experience in civil litigation as a Wisconsin trial attorney, and has won millions of dollars in compensation for his clients.
We hired Steven Caya after our daughter was in a terrible accident. From our initial consultation to the conclusion of our case, he made us feel so comfortable and safe in a very difficult situation. Steven and his team kept us in the know at every turn and expertly answered all of our questions through emails, phone calls, or face to face meetings. His experience and know-how gave us comfort and confidence, knowing our case was in good hands. We were more than pleased with the outcome and would highly recommend him to anyone who needed an excellent, competent, thoughtful attorney.
Sign-and-settle law firms exploit your uncertainty
Don’t get too hung up plugging in the specifics of your case into an online 'calculator' to see potential settlement amounts. Settlement mills and insurance companies rely on this kind of reaction to rush your case, settle ASAP and take their cut without a care for YOUR compensation.
The quality of your lawyer makes all the difference to your bottom line. Check out these personal injury case examples & settlement outcomes won by Steve Caya.
How long does it take to settle a personal injury case?
Hardly any time at all—if you’re willing to settle for less than you deserve.
Beware any promises of a quick settlement. Insurance companies LOVE sign-and-settle lawyers who want to settle your case quickly regardless of whether it's the best course for YOU.
What insurance companies FEAR is a lawyer who fights for the compensation their client deserves. One who will challenge them for the settlement amount the injured victim truly needs to become whole again.
How long does an insurance company have to settle a claim in Wisconsin?
Under Wisconsin law §628.46 an insurance company has to pay a claim within 30 days of receiving written notice reporting a covered loss. Learn more about Wisconsin auto insurance claim laws.
By your side for as long as it takes
We'll try to resolve your claim with the insurance company before filing a lawsuit. If it’s in your best interest to file a lawsuit, we’ll do it. Many cases average 6-18 months. Depending on the specifics of the lawsuit, resolution could take months or even years.
There is no formula for how long it will take for your case to settle. It depends on the details of your claim, the insurance companies involved, coverages of all parties in the accident, who is found to be at fault, and other unique circumstances.
If a settlement cannot be reached outside of court, rest assured attorney Steve Caya will fight for every penny you deserve. Insurers hate the possibility of having to pay an unlimited jury award, and will typically increase their settlement offer when facing a proven trial attorney.
Do I need a lawyer?
Wisconsin law says you have the right to file a personal injury claim, negotiate a settlement, and initiate a personal injury lawsuit on your own.
If you have a minor injury, handling the claim on your own might be the most reasonable path, especially if fault is obvious (for example you were stopped at a red light and rear-ended).
If proving fault isn’t clear, if you have a serious injury, or if the future outcome of your injuries is uncertain, you’re better off hiring an attorney.
If you decide to go it alone
If your personal injury lawsuit is for $5,000 or less it’s handled in small claims court. If you need more than $5,000 you’ll have to file your lawsuit in civil court. You’ll need to invest significant time and money when pursuing a lawsuit by yourself.
Costs can include:
- Filing fees
- Paying a court reporter for transcripts and depositions
- Compensating expert witnesses to provide necessary testimony
- Paying for copies of various reports like witness statements, medical records, etc
- Spending your time dealing with the lawsuit instead of working
There are many required legal steps, like pre-trial litigation, discovery, jury selection, defending your case at trial, and possibly during appeals. Unless you’re a lawyer familiar with the process, it’s very easy to make a mistake. If the court finds cause to dismiss your lawsuit, you don’t get another chance to seek compensation.
Benefits of hiring an attorney
If you file a personal injury claim without a lawyer you’ll be getting involved with lawyers anyway – they’ll just be working against you. Insurance companies don’t fool around when there’s serious money on the line. Even if you pride yourself on your ability to be assertive and see things through, it’s very unlikely you’ll be a match for their resources and experience.
Having a personal injury lawyer on your side makes the process much easier on you, and vastly increases your odds of getting a fair settlement.
What's the average settlement for a personal injury lawsuit in Wisconsin?
The value of an injury claim or lawsuit depends on many different factors that are different for each situation. Steve Caya has won hundreds of five, six, and seven-figure settlements for his clients. The best way to know what your claim is worth is by discussing the particulars with a personal injury attorney.
Personal injury lawyer Steve Caya understands how to handle insurance companies (and their legal teams) to maximize your compensation. They know the authority, experience, and winning track record he brings to the table. Insurers sit up and take notice when your claim is being handled by a professional, and typically this results in a bigger settlement offer.
The choice is yours. Our recommendation is at least getting a free consultation and some professional legal insight into your case. There’s no obligation, only the opportunity to learn more about your best options.
Compassionate legal help for accident victims
Steve Caya understands first-hand what it’s like to be where you are now. As an accident survivor he knows the pain, financial pressure and life-ruining stress you’re going through. As a former insurance industry insider, he knows exactly what it takes to make them pay. And you pay nothing until after we secure a settlement or jury award in your favor.
Don’t put things off any longer. Reach out to our law office and take the first step towards claiming what you deserve.
It's important to understand this article is meant to be informative, and does not constitute legal advice for your situation. Laws and statutes frequently change, and the specific facts of a case can affect how the law applies. If you want legal advice for your personal injury claim, you should contact our law firm to request a consultation.
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