Pain and suffering damages from truck crashes capped in Iowa

May 15, 2023

Chuck Robinson


A new cap on noneconomic damages in lawsuits resulting from crashes with heavy-duty trucks has become law in Iowa.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation on Friday, May 12, capping noneconomic, or pain and suffering, damages in lawsuits from crashes with heavy-duty trucks at $5 million.

The Iowa Senate passed SF228 on April 17 by a 31-19 vote. The Iowa House passed the bill on March 18.

The new law limits only noneconomic damages resulting from crashes, which could include pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of opportunity.

The law does not limit economic damages resulting from crashes, such as compensation for lost wages or medical expenses. It also does not limit punitive damages, if any are awarded.

It is different from earlier versions in several respects.

  • The Senate originally passed a $2 million cap on damages.
  • Companies cannot be sued for negligence in hiring a truck driver who is involved in a collision, which was previously in the bill.
  • Employers also are not shielded from liability for negligently supervising, training or trusting an employee involved in a crash.

The legislation only applies to weighing more than 26,000 pounds, vehicles transporting hazardous materials, glider kit vehicles, road tractors, tow trucks and truck tractors. Other vehicles are not included, such as buses, delivery trucks, or company-owned pickup trucks.

There are several exceptions where the $5 million damages cap would not apply. Those include when the driver of the commercial truck involved in a crash:

  • Was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Committed a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.
  • Was involved in manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance.
  • Was driving without a proper commercial driver’s license or driving with a revoked or suspended license.
  • Was driving a vehicle involved in human trafficking.
  • Was driving recklessly.
  • Was using a cellphone or other device while driving.
  • Was going 15 miles per hour or more over the speed limit.
  • If a CDL is not required to operate the vehicle.

While opponents of the legislation argued that the law restricted Iowans’ constitutional rights to a jury trial. Proponents argued that the limit protected employers from nuclear verdicts where juries award exorbitant amounts for pain and suffering claims.

The $5 million pain and suffering damages cap is required to be adjusted for inflation by the Iowa secretary of state every two years beginning in 2026.

The legislation was backed by the Iowa Motor Truck Association. The president of the Iowa trade group is Sen. Adrian Dickey, president of Dickey Transport, Packwood, Iowa, who is serving his first term in the Iowa Senate.

The list of declared lobbyists for the Senate bill included representatives of insurance companies, law firms, chambers of commerce, CRST International, Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Casey’s General Stores, Kum and Go LLC, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, 3M Co., Hy-Vee Inc., and the Iowa Grocery Industry Association.

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