Shady Crews, Stay Away
Wisconsin ought to trumpet this warning: From now on, the owners of shady door-to-door sales businesses had better steer their traveling crews away from Wisconsin.
Thanks to a Dunn County court decision, this state has pierced the corporate veil these unscrupulous operators hide behind to escape responsibility for assaults and other crimes committed by members of their crews.
They can no longer let their crews loose in Wisconsin without sweating over the risk of personal liability.
By highlighting Wisconsin as a state for shady traveling sales businesses to avoid, the court decision protects the safety not only of Wisconsin consumers but also young people recruited to join the crews.
The list of horror stories involving traveling sales crews across the country includes a 1999 van crash near Janesville that killed seven young crew members.
The van was driven by a 20-year-old serial traffic offender whose license was suspended. The company employing the crew was cited for nearly 100 violations ofemployment and wage laws.
The Dunn County case began, as all too many traveling sales crew stories begin, with a crime.
In July 2005, Brandon Green, a Minnesota resident with a criminal history, was selling magazines door-to-door in Menomonie when he violently beat and sexually assaulted a woman in her home.
Green was convicted of second-degree sexual assault.
In such cases the out-of-state business operators in charge of the sales crews count on being able to claim a protection from responsibility that most businesses lack. Shady sales crew operators erect barriers between them and their crews to escape the reach of the courts.
With no legal liability, the operators are free to be unscrupulous. Victims trying to sue for damages are out of luck.
That's where this fall's Dunn County case turned in favor of Wisconsin's law-abiding citizens.
With Madison lawyers Jim Olson and John Carlson Jr. from Lawton & Cates making the argument, Judge William Stewart ruled that the corporate veil was no defense.
The decision, upheld by the court of appeals, cleared the way for the victim's lawsuit against corporate officials from three traveling sales crew businesses, all in Florida.
The shady operators are now personally at risk.
Wisconsin should follow up the ruling with improved regulation of traveling sales crews. The state Senate has passed a bill, now awaiting a hearing in an Assembly committee.
Meantime, Wisconsin should advertise its reputation as a state that has put out an unwelcome mat for shady traveling sales crews - a message that sales crew operators can now ignore only at their own risk.