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Wisconsin's trial lawyers association ranked the state's new auto insurance law as the year's No. 1 attack on consumers' rights in Wisconsin, filling out the rest of its Top 10 list with other Republican-led initiatives to improve the state's business climate.

Critics see the auto insurance law as a giveaway to insurance companies, which have new powers to decide what they cover in the event of an accident.

"The net effect of all of these changes is that consumers are getting less coverage and the auto insurance companies are getting more control," reads a message from the Injury Board, a national group of law firms, attorneys and safety advocates that weighed in on Wisconsin's law. "Victims of car accidents involving uninsured/underinsured motorists already had enough obstacles to recovery and these legal changes create more."

Coming in at No. 2 on the Wisconsin Association for Justice's list is a cap on attorney fees, passed in Gov. Scott Walker's end-of-the-year special legislative session on jobs, his second such effort. Critics say the cap will hurt the chances of wronged tenants, "lemon" car buyers and others seeking relatively small damages, to find a lawyer. Proponents say the law, and all the others passed by the Legislature that limit consumer rights, will prevent frivolous lawsuits.

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Other measures on the list include various aspects of product liability law that raise the bar for lawsuits against products that injure and kill while capping the amount manufacturers might end up paying.

Then of course there are the laws shielding nursing homes from liability for abuse and negligence, and a measure keeping reports of abuse and neglect secret in court, both civil and criminal.

I don't believe I've seen the Association for Justice compile such a list in past years, but with lawmakers still working on civil liability laws, such as one that shields pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers from lawsuits, they'll likely have plenty to work with for next year's list.

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