Most Republicans in the Iowa Senate have passed a bill to provide new liability protection for the trucking industry. The shield also would extend to lawsuits over wrecks involving other commercial vehicles, like delivery trucks, cranes, utility vehicles and farm tractors.

Non-economic pain and suffering damages in lawsuits over accidents would be limited to $2 million, while payments to cover medical expenses, economic losses and punitive damages would remain unlimited. Republican Senator Adrian Dickey of Packwood owns a trucking company and is chairman of the Iowa Motor Truck Association’s board of directors.

“This is not about avoiding responsibility,” Dickey said. “It’s simply an attempt to rein in these ambulance chasing attorneys and false claims that…are plugging up our legal system.”

Four Republican senators joined all the Democrats in voting against the bill. Senator Mark Lofgren, a Republican from Muscatine, voted earlier this month against similiar liability changes for medical malpractice claims. He cited the details of his grandson’s death after surgery to remove the two-year-old’s adenoids.

“Families that lose their family members from a truck, an injury that happens or whatever, they love their families just like those that lose their family with medical malpractice,” Lofgren said.

Senator Mike Bousselot, a Republican from Ankeny, said the bill is needed to protect the trucking industry from trial attorneys seeking “out-of-whack” pain and suffering awards that drive up trucking company costs.

“We can see the nuclear verdicts here in Iowa. We can see the nuclear verdicts coming our way from as close as Illinois or Arkansas, but we can also see it on the very shelves that we shop,” he said. “We see it when we try and buy a dozen eggs, when the goods that we want aren’t on that shelf.”

Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, said families who lose a loved one in an accident need more support than the bill would allow. “This bill robs everyday Iowans of justice, senators,” Jochum said. “Are you going to protect the bottom line of gross negligent trucking companies?”

The bill’s liability structure for commercial vehicle accidents is similar to the language in the medical malpractice bill the governor signed into law last week. The bill that cleared the Senate last night now goes to the House for consideration.

Radio Iowa