Capital Clicks

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs law capping certain damages in trucking lawsuits

By: - May 12, 2023 4:09 pm

Trucks and cars drive down the New Jersey Turnpike February 23, 2005 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation Friday that enacts a $5 million limit on noneconomic damages a victim can recover in court cases against trucking companies whose employees cause accidents.

The liability limits in Senate File 228 apply to lawsuits against trucking companies whose employee caused injury, death, or other significant damages. Only the noneconomic damages — jury awards to compensate victims for costs such as pain and suffering — are affected by the cap.

The legislation originally set a $1 million maximum for noneconomic damages, but the Iowa House voted to amend the bill to $5 million. Sen. Mike Bousselot, R-Ankeny, said the higher cap falls “far short” of the ideal trucking company liability protections he would like to see, but that the liability limit will allow injured Iowans to seek justice through the court system while providing relief to trucking companies dealing with high jury awards.

The governor did not release a statement on the bill, but supported liability limits for medical malpractice cases, signing into law a measure capping noneconomic damages for incidents resulting in loss or impairment of a bodily function, disfigurement or death, at $1 million for clinics and doctors and $2 million for hospitals.

While opponents argue these measures restrict Iowans’ constitutional right to a jury and place a limit on the value of human life, supporters said these limits help stabilize the industry’s insurance costs as well as protect employers from “nuclear verdicts,” where juries award victims millions in damages.

Democrats said the “nuclear verdicts” Republican supporters cited were not happening in Iowa. But Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, chairman of the Iowa Motor Truck Association said the vast majority of his board members’ companies have faced such lawsuits.

“They’re taking place in Iowa right now,” Dickey said in February. “For every one of these bogus claims that gets filed, a legitimate claim gets put off or delayed.”

The bill provides protections against “negligent hiring” claims in lawsuits where an employee of a commercial motor vehicle business caused the accident. It still allows plaintiffs to pursue employers for negligent practices in supervising, training or trusting an employee. The bill also does not prevent victims from collecting punitive damages.

The liability limits do not apply in several situations when a driver was not in compliance with other driving laws, such when the driver was operating the vehicle while under the influence, was going 15 miles per hour or more above the speed limit, or using a cell phone while driving.

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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.