Capital Clicks

Lawmakers move narrower liability shield for trucking industry

By: - March 2, 2021 11:54 am

Lawmakers are moving a revamped bill to shield the trucking industry from significant liability for the negligence of their employees. (Photo by Josiah Farrow via Unsplash)

Lawmakers in the Iowa House advanced a revamped bill dealing with trucking industry liability Tuesday after critics said the previous version, which applied to all employers, was overly broad and unfair to people who had been injured by a negligent driver in a motor vehicle accident.

House Study Bill 259 would still shield the motor truck industry from significant liability for damage caused by the negligence of their employees. However, the bill now caps noneconomic damages in a civil lawsuit at $1 million per plaintiff in an accident and limits the legislation to accidents involving a commercial vehicle.

Representatives of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, which proposed the bill, have argued the bill is needed to avoid “nuclear” jury awards seen in other states exceeding $50 million.

Both the House and Senate had advanced significantly broader bills out of subcommittees that would have applied to all motor vehicle accidents and would have capped noneconomic damages at $750,000 or $1 million regardless of how many people were injured or killed in a crash.

Representatives of the Iowa Bar Association and Iowa Association for Justice argued the revised bill would still protect “bad actors” in the trucking industry from liability for failing to use proper care in hiring, training, equipping and supervising employees.

“So what will happen is the worst actors in the industry, the ones who don’t live up to standards, will get a get-out-of-jail-free card. And the good companies, the ones that are doing it right will get nothing,” said Rob Conklin, a West Des Moines attorney speaking for the Iowa Association for Justice. “And that get-out-of-jail-free card will get cashed in. And it’ll get cashed in by the worst companies and the people that will pay the price are Iowans on the road.”

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, and Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Adel, voted to advance the bill to the House Commerce Committee. Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, opposed it.

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