Capital Clicks

House, Senate panels move ahead with liability limits for truckers

By: - February 2, 2023 3:35 pm

Trucks deliver harvested grain in western Iowa. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Limits on liability for trucking companies are speeding through the Iowa Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday recommended passage of House Study Bill 114, which would place a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages available in lawsuits against the owner or operator of a commercial motor vehicle for incidents resulting in personal injury or death. The Senate gave initial approval Thursday in subcommittee to the companion bill,  Senate Study Bill 1114. Last year, a similar bill died on the House floor.

The legislation would also dismiss negligence claims against trucking companies as employers for their employees’ harmful conduct, excluding cases where the driver is under the influence.

Opponents, like Chip Baltimore with Trial Lawyers 4 Justice, said the bill will only keep injured Iowans from just compensation. While supporters of caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice say they are necessary to help rural hospitals stay in business, Baltimore said the trucking bill does not address a similar issue.

Noneconomic damages may include pain and suffering, emotional trauma or loss of consortium of a spouse, for example. Medical bills and lost wages would be considered economic damages and there is no limit on that liability in the bill.

Republicans and trucking industry lobbyists argued that these damage limits and trucking employer protections make Iowa a more business-friendly state.

Insurance industry advocates also spoke up in support of the bill, saying it will help Iowa maintain stable and low insurance rates. Legal advocates said Iowa already has the nation’s 4th lowest commercial vehicle insurance rates in the country.

Sen. Mike Bousselot, R-Ankeny, said said some of the concerns with the bill’s language that lobbyists brought up in the meeting would be looked at as it heads to committee.

“I believe that, having looked at other states, this bill does need some work,” Bousselot said, but that the legislation “is a balanced approach to trying to make sure that we have affordability in our supply chain, and for Iowans also making sure that we continue to have accountability and protections, the folks who are injured.”

The bill will be eligible for floor debate in the House next week and it moves to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.