In May, Governor Kim Reynolds signed new limits into law that protect trucking companies. First, the law shields them from lawsuits claiming they negligently hired a driver who was involved in a crash. Second, the new law limits compensation for the pain and suffering victims experience in crashes with big commercial trucks.
Now, crash victims will only be allowed to receive up to $5 million for their pain and suffering. However, they can still receive compensation for all of their economic losses, including lost wages due to the accident and all related medical expenses. In some cases, they may also be eligible for punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongdoers, and the law allows this.
This is another in a raft of proposals limiting financial recoveries for injured people in Iowa. As we discussed previously, lawmakers in February placed a $2-million cap on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.
The limits of the new truck accident law
According to the Des Moines Register, the law only applies to certain wrecks with “commercial vehicles.” These are defined as vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds, that transport hazardous materials, and glider kits, road tractors, truck tractors and tow trucks. The law does not include many other types of vehicles that are driven commercially, such as delivery trucks, buses and company pickups.
If someone is struck by a truck qualifying under this law, they would generally be subject to the $5 million cap unless an exception applies in their case. There are numerous exceptions, such as when the commercial driver:
- Was impaired by drugs or alcohol
- Committed a felony involving a motor vehicle
- Was involved in manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance
- Was driving a vehicle involved in human trafficking
- Had no commercial driver’s license or their license had been suspended or revoked
- Was driving recklessly, was going 15 mph above the speed limit, or was using a device like a phone while driving
The exceptions for speeding, distracted driving and reckless driving could apply in many cases.
How does the new law protect trucking companies?
In some cases, trucking companies may be partially responsible for the crashes their drivers are involved in. For example, they may have pressured the driver into working more hours that was legally allowed. They may have failed to maintain the truck. They may have loaded the truck improperly.
When this law applies to the accident, people can no longer bring lawsuits claiming that the trucking company was negligent in hiring the driver. That could be problematic for plaintiffs in cases where the company knew or should have known that their driver was prone to get into accident. Or when they hired a driver who had a prior drunk-driving conviction.
However, the law still allows other claims against trucking companies. For example, people can still file lawsuits claiming that the trucking company was negligent when it trained, trusted or supervised the driver.
The upshot is that this law could hurt injured Iowans
A $5-million cap on damages for pain and suffering may seem pretty generous, and it will go up with inflation.
However, judges and juries have sometimes awarded more than that, depending on what happened. A $5-million cap doesn’t allow judges and juries to follow their best judgment. Instead, it places an arbitrary maximum value on human pain. It will be those who suffer the most who will be affected by this law.