Should Trucking Accident Damages Be Capped at $5 Million?


Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

There is no escaping the fact that truck driving can be a dangerous job. Any time someone drives on the highway, there is a risk of an accident. Due to the sheer amount of time that truckers are behind the wheel, they are bound to be disproportionately involved in accidents.

If a person is injured or killed in an accident involving a truck driver, the driver or the trucking company may be liable to pay a huge sum for costs related to pain and suffering. Lawsuit damages for pain and suffering are different than what are considered “economic damages,” which include lost wages or medical costs associated with the accident.

Capping Payments Against Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies

Iowa recently voted to pass a bill that would limit these “non-economic damages” (i.e. payments made to someone experiencing pain and suffering). These damages would be capped at $5 million.

The bill is very specific in limiting the scope of this cap on damages though. The cap on non-economic damages would not include payments for other economic damages, such as medical treatment that is required as a result of the accident.

The cap on non-economic damages also does not apply in several exempt situations, such as if the driver was drunk, speeding, or lacked a valid CDL.

The bill would also allow the injured party (the plaintiff suing the truck driver) to recover all of the punitive damages awarded by the court. This means that any money that the court deems the driver or company should pay as punishment will be given to the other party in the accident.

The cap on non-economic damages was also raised in the final bill to $5 million from the Senate’s original proposal of $2 million.

Why Cap Non-economic Damages?

With so many restrictions and exceptions, why did the Iowa Congress decide to pass a $5 million cap? Does it even make a difference? What are their reasons?

Despite the driver or trucking company still being liable for lost wages, medical costs, punitive damages, and some non-economic damages, the cap will still make a difference.

Especially in egregious cases of injury or accidents where someone does not survive the accident, the jury may still award sums of money that far exceed $5 million to the victim’s relatives.

These payments get paid by insurance, but this results in much higher insurance costs for all trucking businesses. The model of insurance is that they would have to raise everyone’s costs in order to make payments on the rare accidents.

Any significant rise in insurance costs results in higher costs on almost all goods for the consumer and resident of Iowa. Because almost everything we get, from groceries to electronics, touches a truck at some point, the trucking companies have to raise their own rates to pay for higher insurance premiums.

As all these costs get passed down to the ordinary person, the Iowa government stepped in.

What Do Opponents Say?

Critics of the bill, however, say that the cap puts a specific value on the well-being and life of the person who suffered in the accident. Without knowing details of the case, how can the legislature determine the monetary value of a person’s pain and suffering or, in the worst cases, the grief of their loved ones?

Citizens also have a right to a trial by jury, and many people believe these limitations infringe on the rights of the jury to make a decision.

If the Iowa bill becomes popular, we could see similar legislation taken up around the country or even in the federal government. What do you think? Should non-economic damages be capped?