Should there be laws protecting trucking companies from nuclear verdicts?


HomeHome / News / Should there be laws protecting trucking companies from nuclear verdicts?

Oct 18, 2023

Should there be laws protecting trucking companies from nuclear verdicts?

googletag.cmd.push(function() { var gptSlot =

googletag.cmd.push(function() { var gptSlot = googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/FW-Responsive-Main_Content-Slot1', [[728, 90], [468, 60], [300, 100], [320, 50]], 'div-gpt-ad-b1-i-fw-ad-1').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).setCollapseEmptyDiv(true).addService(googletag.pubads());gptAdSlots.push(gptSlot);});

Iowa lawmakers are considering legislation aimed at providing liability protection for trucking companies with drivers who cause accidents on the job.

House Study Bill 114 prevents trucking companies from being sued for "direct negligence in hiring, training, supervising, or trusting" an employee if their drivers are involved in a serious crash.

The bill would also cap noneconomic damages at $1 million if someone does try to sue for cases involving commercial truck drivers. Noneconomic damages are a form of compensation that accounts for an injured person's pain, emotional distress, suffering and other similar issues related to an accident.

The bill excludes cases in which the driver is under the influence of drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Supporters of the bill said it aims to protect the trucking industry from so-called nuclear verdicts and rising insurance rates.

"Iowa ranks as one of the top states to do business," Rep. Bill Gustoff, R-Des Moines, said during a committee hearing on the bill Jan. 31. "We’re just trying to keep it that way and avoid some of the nuclear verdicts that we’ve seen in a lot of other states."

window.googletag = window.googletag || {cmd: []}; googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/fw-responsive-main_content-slot2', [[468, 60], [728, 90], [300, 100], [320, 50]], 'div-gpt-ad-1665767472470-0').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.enableServices(); });

David Scott, a lobbyist for the Iowa Motor Truck Association, said the goal of the bill was to provide clarity to commercial vehicle owners on their level of liability in accidents.

"We brought this bill forward in the hopes to bring some fairness to nuclear verdicts around the country of $50 [million], $60 [million], $90 million," Scott said during the committee meeting. "The legislation provides a degree of predictability to all 804,000 commercial vehicles in Iowa."

In August 2021, a Florida jury awarded a record $1 billion verdict in a case involving two trucking companies for the death of an 18-year-old named Connor Dzion.

Dzion's family was awarded $100 million for pain and suffering and $900 million in punitive damages for negligent hiring and retention against one of the trucking companies.

Later that same year, a Texas jury awarded $730 million to the survivors of Toni Combest, a 73-year-old woman who was killed in 2016. Combest's vehicle collided with an oversized cargo truck hauling a propeller for a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine in Titus County, Texas.

The trucking industry has experienced a continuous escalation in so-called nuclear verdicts since 2011, when a jury in Cobb County, Georgia, awarded $40 million in a wrongful death suit against a carrier, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

window.googletag = window.googletag || {cmd: []}; googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/fw-responsive-main_content-slot3', [[728, 90], [468, 60], [320, 50], [300, 100]], 'div-gpt-ad-1665767553440-0').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.enableServices(); });

ATRI defined a nuclear verdict as one in excess of $10 million in its 2020 report "Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry."

"In the waning years of the 20th century, personal injury suits began to rise both in prevalence and monetary value, setting the stage for the large lawsuits seen in the trucking industry now," ATRI said in the report. "The often-disparate relationship between liability and negligence has created an environment where large verdicts have become relatively commonplace."

In Texas, a law adding a layer of protection for trucking companies in postcrash litigation went into effect in September 2021. The law increases the standard for finding a trucking company liable for an accident and shifts more of the responsibility onto the truck driver.

The bill's advocates said it would prevent excessive lawsuits against companies. Others said the law could make Texas roads more dangerous and prevent victims of crashes from receiving justice.

The state of Florida is also considering sweeping reforms aimed at limiting nuclear verdicts.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron Desantis announced the outline of a tort reform bill aimed at decreasing "frivolous lawsuits and preventing predatory practices of trial attorneys that prey on hardworking Floridians, including truckers and small businesses."

window.googletag = window.googletag || {cmd: []}; googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/fw-responsive-main_content-slot2', [[728, 90], [468, 60], [320, 50], [300, 100]], 'div-gpt-ad-1665767737710-0').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.enableServices(); });

"For decades, Florida has been considered a judicial hellhole due to excessive litigation and a legal system that benefitted the lawyers more than people who are injured," DeSantis said in a news release. "We are now working on legal reform that is more in line with the rest of the country and that will bring more businesses and jobs to Florida."

In Iowa, opponents of the bill making its way through the state Legislature said it takes accountability away from trucking companies and diminishes jury decisions.

"For a long, long time in this state, we’ve been trusting our neighbors, our peers, to sit in a courtroom, listen to testimony, and make that decision on behalf of everybody in the state," said Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids. "But for some reason, there's a sentiment running through this building this week that we should take that right away from Iowans to decide this."

Scheetz voted against the bill during the committee meeting. It passed 2-1, with affirmative votes from Gustoff and Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone.

As of Friday, the bill was on the Iowa House of Representatives’ floor to be debated. The Iowa Senate version of the bill was scheduled for debate on Monday.

Scheetz said if the bill passes Iowa would become the first state in the nation to cap damages for trucking companies specifically.

window.googletag = window.googletag || {cmd: []}; googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/fw-responsive-main_content-slot5', [[728, 90], [468, 60], [320, 50], [300, 100]], 'div-gpt-ad-1665767778941-0').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.enableServices(); });

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Noi Mahoney.

More articles by Noi Mahoney

APM Terminals Mobile announces $60M rail expansion

Trucking associations push to end vaccine mandate at US borders

Port of Corpus Christi finishes 2022 with new tonnage record

window.googletag = window.googletag || {cmd: []}; googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot('/21776187881/fw-responsive-main_content-slot6', [[728, 90], [468, 60], [320, 50], [300, 100]], 'div-gpt-ad-1665767872042-0').defineSizeMapping(gptSizeMaps.banner1).addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.enableServices(); });


The greatest minds in the transportation, logistics and supply chain industries will share insights, predict future trends and showcase emerging technology the FreightWaves way–with engaging discussions, rapid-fire demos, interactive sponsor kiosks and more.

More articles by Noi Mahoney Register Now