Wisconsin and West Virginia are divided on capping damages in CMV accident lawsuits

Wisconsin and West Virginia are divided on capping damages in CMV accident lawsuits

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed a bill that would set a $1 million cap on awards for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in lawsuits stemming from commercial motor vehicle accidents.

Meanwhile, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that caps non-economic damages in CMV-related accidents at $5 million.

The industry has lobbied to limit damages from truck accidents, citing tens of millions of dollars in judgments that drive up insurance rates or make it difficult to obtain auto transportation coverage at all.

In a statement issued Friday, Evers called the $1 million cap arbitrary and said, “The law should address the harm of the party, not oppress the injured party.” The bill also violates due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution, and would conflict with existing state law, inviting “continued litigation,” he said.

Doug Morris, who works in government affairs for the Independent Owner-Operator Drivers Association, said Evers doesn’t realize the impact that serious damage awards will have on the trucking industry and on individual truck drivers.

“The governor has failed to understand the abuse of the system by trial attorneys and the harm done to the industry, especially pickup truck drivers, by allowing unlimited sentences,” Morris said in a statement to FreightWaves. “Trucker drivers are essential workers, not banks.”

The Wisconsin Senate passed the cap on non-monetary damages with support mostly from Republicans. The state Assembly, also controlled by Republicans, passed it by voice vote.

Testifying in January in support of the legislation, Republican state Rep. Rick Gundrum cited a study by the American Transportation Research Institute that found that judgments worth more than $1 million in truck accident lawsuits rose on average from $2.3 million to $22.3 million. Dollars from 2010 to 2018.

The Wisconsin Association for Justice, an advocacy organization, criticized the proposed cap on damages as “an attack on the ability of Wisconsin citizens to obtain justice after suffering catastrophic injuries and death on Wisconsin roads.”

In West Virginia, the American Trucking Associations on Tuesday announced the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a $5 million cap on non-economic damages related to CMV crashes and praised Gov. Jim Justice for signing the bill into law. Chris Speer, president and CEO of ATA, said the reform “ensures fairness and equity that drive accident litigation outcomes, not profits.”

Tracy Nelson, president of the West Virginia Trucking Association, also praised the measure.

“With approximately 33,890 West Virginians employed in the trucking industry and 84 percent of our communities relying solely on trucks to move freight, this legislation is critical to the economic well-being of our state,” Nelson said.

The state Senate passed the bill by a vote of 32-1, and it passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 81-15. It was released in March of this year.

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