Senate approves $5 million liability cap for trucking companies

By: - April 17, 2023 10:41 pm

The Senate gave final approval to legislation capping at $5 million the noneconomic damages that can be awarded to victims in a lawsuit against a trucking company whose employee caused an accident. (Stock photo via Canva)

The Iowa Senate on Monday sent the governor a bill setting a $5 million limit on the noneconomic damages a victim can win in court as the result of an accident involving a trucking company.

The legislation, Senate File 228, passed the Senate in February with a $2 million limit for noneconomic damages in lawsuits against trucking companies whose employee caused injury, death or other damages. Noneconomic damages can be awarded for pain and suffering, mental anguish or loss of consortium of a spouse, for example.

But to get the bill over the finish line in the House, lawmakers raised the cap to $5 million, with adjustments for inflation starting in 2028. The House amendment also adjusted the scope of employer liability to address some of the concerns critics voiced about holding trucking companies accountable for negligent hiring, training and supervising practices.

Sen. Mike Bousselot, R-Ankeny, said he believes the amended language is “far short” of the ideal policy for trucking liability limits, but that it is a step in the right direction. The House’s amendment was a “balancing of concerns,” he said, between trucking companies and lawyers on noneconomic damages and employer liability exposure.

“While many said it was a bridge too far for the Iowa Motor Truck Association and trial attorneys to come together and support — support tort reform, commonsense tort reform, I think the goal of this amendment is that,” Bousselot said.” I think the goal of this amendment is … protecting Iowans who are injured while lowering and protecting predictability and stability for our critical, critical components of our supply chain.”

Like the medical malpractice liability limits signed into law in February, the goal of setting these caps is to protect employers from “nuclear” verdicts where a jury awards the victim millions in damages, and to stabilize insurance costs for the industry. The $5 million cap matches the highest federal insurance requirement, which applies to vehicles transporting hazardous materials such as radioactive materials.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, praised the House’s amendment for addressing some of the concerns brought up by opponents, legal advocates and victims. The bill provides “safeguards” against the concerns Senate Democrats brought up in the first debate on the legislation, and will keep more avenues for justice open to victims in trucking accidents.

Boulton voted against the measure because he said liability limits impair Iowans’ constitutional right to a jury trial. But he said the House changes are a step in the right direction.

“We do better when we talk to each other, when we communicate, when we work together to implement policy,” Boulton said. “The work done by so many in this chamber and in the House, to continue working on this legislation to prevent the harshest of outcomes from becoming real from that original legislation, is truly appreciated.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“We’re back to a commonsense piece of legislation that is implementing policies that are found in other states, that are meant to help protect Iowans injured, but also protect Iowans for paying higher and higher prices,” Bousselot said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.