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Murphy & Prachthauser Case Makes State Bar Top 9 Wisconsin Supreme Court Decisions

Beginning a new year is not only a time to look forward to new opportunities, but also a time to reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year. In 2013 we continued to diligently represent our clients, successfully achieving favorable verdicts and settlements. In addition, our attorneys have also been recognized both regionally and nationally with accomplishments such as Attorney Don Prachthauser’s induction into the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, Attorney Thadd Llaurado’s publication in a nationally distributed trial magazine, and the firm’s recognition with the highest possible AV Preeminent rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review System. One of the most important accomplishments attorneys can make is to advance the law to better protect clients. In 2013, Murphy & Prachthauser was proud to have made a significant contribution to the development of Wisconsin law. Recently, the Wisconsin State Bar official publication, Wisconsin Lawyer, identified Brown v. Acuity, one of our cases, as one of the “Top 9 Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court Decisions.”

In Brown, a volunteer firefighter, Burditt, responded to a call from the fire department in his personal vehicle. Burditt’s vehicle was equipped with a flashing light, but no audible signal. While in route to the fire department, Burditt ran a red light and collided with another vehicle and injured the occupants, our clients. The Circuit Court and Court of Appeals held that Burditt had discretion to run the red light as a public officer and was immune from liability. After two unfavorable decisions, we appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

While only a few personal injury cases are heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court every year, Brown was chosen. I had the opportunity to do the oral argument before the Supreme Court. After a heated oral argument and fielding questions from the bench, I nervously awaited the decision for almost nine months. In July 2013, in a unanimous decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the lower courts. The court held that while Burditt was acting in the course of his employment, and that his conduct fell into the ministerial duty exception to the public-officer immunity. The Supreme Court held that while government employees have broad discretion in how they carry out their duties, and therefore immunity from a lawsuit, Burditt had no discretion to run the red light because his vehicle was not properly equipped with a siren or audible signal. This ministerial duty exception eliminates Burditt’s public-officer immunity and exposes the fire department to liability for the injuries caused to our clients.

Developing Wisconsin law through the Brown case was only one of our important accomplishments in 2013. As we begin the New Year, we will continue to help injured clients recover, we will fight for our clients even at the appellate level, and will advocate for more changes to Wisconsin law to better serve our clients and the public.