Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Signs Law Capping Non-Economic Damages in Truck Driving Lawsuits
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law new legislation that would limit the damages a plaintiff can receive for pain and suffering, ultimately providing more protection for trucking companies and their drivers.
Reynolds signed Senate File 228 into law last Friday. The new law will have non-economic damages capped at $5 million for personal injury lawsuits involving commercial vehicles. Additionally, it will provide limited liability for employees named as defendants in those lawsuits. Beginning in 2028, the bill’s cap on damages will be adjusted for inflation every two years. The bill was originally written for a cap of $1 million but was later amended to $5 million.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 58-42, with six Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it.
There will be no changes to the law regarding economic damages, i.e., damages pertaining to compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and other calculable losses. Additionally, all punitive damages will go to the plaintiff.
The new law details that a cap on damages can be waived by the court if certain conditions apply. These conditions include whether the driver is found guilty of the following:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Was involved in manufacturing/distributing controlled substances
- Refuses to submit to chemical testing
- Was also committing a felony at the time of the crash
- Did not have a proper commercial driver’s license
- Was operating a vehicle involved in human trafficking
- Was driving recklessly
- Was using a mobile phone, computer, tablet, or other device while driving in violation of state or local law
- Was driving over 15 mph of the posted speed limit
Additionally, the cap on damages will not apply to vehicles that do not require a commercial driver's license or commercial passenger vehicles.
Companies in the trucking industry will also have greater protection in the form of liability. Trucking companies cannot be sued for negligent hiring if they hire an employee who is later involved in a commercial vehicle crash, provided certain conditions are met. Employers could still be held liable for direct negligence in failing to train, supervise, or trust employees to act in a safe manner while operating a truck.
The bill has been met with mixed responses by both supporters of the trucking industry and those more concerned about the rights of state residents. Proponents of the new law explain that the bill would prevent “nuclear” verdicts — that is, verdicts that result in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for plaintiffs who file wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits. Additionally, proponents argue that there will be a lot of certainty added to the trucking industry which will bring down overall rates and help fuel economic activity.
Meanwhile, those who oppose the bill argue that a cap on non-economic damages could affect an Iowan’s right to a fair trial by a jury, especially in cases where life-altering injuries may require compensation greater than $5 million to support a plaintiff's life.
Republican Rep. Bill Gustoff of Des Moines praised the bill’s passage, explaining, “This was the result of a lot of work and compromise by disparate parties. The trial lawyers and truckers associations — a handful of people involved just trying to work through it and reach a reasonable deal.”
Gustoff adds that a cap on non-economic damages would prove to be an overall economic advantage. “These costs get passed along,” he said. “So it’s hard on trucking companies, it costs farmers, it costs employees, it costs consumers. Because everything we eat, wear, use, if you have it, it came on a truck.”
Republican Rep. Megan Jones voted against the bill and explained that such a cap would be harmful to Iowans. “I don’t see this bill as being generous to victims. Iowans aren’t looking to get run down by semi-trucks. Lawyers aren’t taking risky, frivolous cases. Iowa juries aren’t awarding more than a person deserves.”