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In a landmark decision over corporate governance, a Wisconsin appeals court on Thursday threw out a $6.5 million jury verdict against business owners accused of looting their company.

Banks and labor unions blasted the decision, saying it would allow corporate insiders to enrich themselves at the expense of their creditors and employees.

Even the District 4 Court of Appeals agreed its ruling could allow owners of dying companies to use assets for their personal benefit without having any obligation to pay off their debts first.

The three-judge panel acknowledged that the decision could make Wisconsin banks tighten their oversight of corporate loans, driving up the cost of doing business. But the judges said that under a problematic 2004 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, they had no choice but to overturn the jury's verdict and dismiss the case.

The panel called on the Supreme Court to fix the earlier decision, but that appears doubtful. The high court deadlocked 3-3 on the matter last year, which sent the case back to the Madison-based appeals court.


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