© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

House panel advances liability protections for Iowa's trucking industry

semi truck
John Lloyd
Iowa’s trucking industry would have new legal protections under a bill in the Iowa Legislature.

Iowa’s trucking industry would have new legal protectionsunder a billadvanced Tuesday by Republicans on a House panel.

The bill would prohibit Iowans from suing trucking companies for “direct negligence” in hiring, training, supervising or trusting a truck driver who caused a crash. It would also put a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages awarded in cases of personal injury or death caused by a commercial motor vehicle.

Kellie Paschke, a lobbyist with the Iowa Association for Justice, said the bill would protect bad actors and make truck drivers the scapegoat for their employers’ bad decisions.

“What does employer direct negligence look like? Well, in Iowa, we’ve seen a few different things,” Paschke said. “It is employers who hire truck drivers with known drug addiction. What could go wrong? It is employers who hire drivers and tell them to exceed their hours of service, making the drivers fatigued, causing accidents. But again, what can go wrong?”

The proposal was a priority for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds last year, but it was put into a bill that covered other topics, and House Republicans ultimately didn’t have the support to pass it.

Trucking industry representatives, who proposed the bill, said it’s needed to give them predictability, avoid “nuclear verdicts” of tens of millions of dollars, and improve the availability of certain kinds of insurance coverage.

Lobbyist Marc Beltrame with the Iowa Motor Truck Association disagreed that the bill would make the state’s roads less safe.

“We don’t profit in this industry if we don’t move goods from point A to point B,” Beltrame said. “The farmer who hooks his or her power unit up to their grain cart and puts seven generations of that family farm on the line—they don’t profit if they don’t get their product safely to market.”

Business groups also support the bill, saying it’ll help businesses that rely on trucking transportation.

Lobbyists with the Iowa State Bar Association, which opposes the bill, said the massive payouts in trucking-related lawsuits have been in other states, not Iowa. They said there is no data available on how many trucking-related lawsuits have gone to trial in the state.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, and Rep. Bill Gustoff, R-Saylor Township, voted to advance the bill.

“I think it’s, frankly, unfortunate that every time a commercial motor vehicle is involved in an accident, some people see dollar signs,” Thompson said. “And I’m ready to move this bill forward.”

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, did not support the bill.

“I just have one question that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week…and that’s, what’s the price of a human life?” Scheetz said. “For a long, long time in the state we’ve been trusting our neighbors, our peers, to sit in a courtroom and make that decision on behalf of everyone in the state. But for some reason, there’s a sentiment running through this building that we should take that right away from Iowans to decide this.”

He also pointed out that no other states have a cap on damages specific to the trucking industry, according to the American Association for Justice. Some states have general liability caps that may include trucking-related lawsuits.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter