February 23, 2024

Bills in Wisconsin, Indiana could reduce nuclear verdicts against carriers


A newly passed bill in Wisconsin would limit non-economic damage awards in lawsuits involving commercial vehicle accidents, and Indiana lawmakers have passed a bill that would allow a plaintiff’s seatbelt use to be entered as evidence in accident lawsuits.

Both bills, which have implications for multimillion-dollar nuclear verdicts against trucking companies, now go to the states’ governors for their signatures.

The Wisconsin bill would cap nonmonetary damages — such as pain and suffering — at $1 million. Republicans passed the measure on a mostly party-line vote in the State Senate. The State Assembly approved the bill on a voice vote, the American Trucking Associations, which backs the measure, stated in a news release.

In testimony in January backing the bill, Republican state Rep. Rick Gundrum cited an American Transportation Research Institute study finding that verdicts of greater than $1 million in truck crash lawsuits had risen on average from $2.3 million to $22.3 million from 2010 to 2018.

ATA urged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to sign the bill, saying huge verdicts promote “frivolous lawsuits that have perverted the system into a profit center for the plaintiffs’ bar.” Neal Kedzie, president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, said in the ATA release, “Wisconsin’s trucking industry is essential to everyone in our state, and rampant lawsuit abuse is impeding our ability to do our job safely and efficiently.”

But the Wisconsin Association for Justice, an attorney organization, has labeled the bill “an attack on Wisconsin citizens’ ability to obtain justice after experiencing catastrophic injuries and death on Wisconsin roadways.”

Evers’ office did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. The Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, which represents various industries in the state and supports the bill, stated on its website that Evers would likely veto it.

Indiana targets ‘seatbelt gag rule’

Meanwhile, Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will decide whether to sign into law the bill that permits a plaintiff’s seatbelt use to be admitted as evidence in vehicle accident lawsuits. Juries could reduce damage awards based on that information, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported.

Holcomb’s press secretary, Erin Murphy, said a decision by the governor on whether to sign the bill should come within days.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear praised the Indiana legislation, saying in a release that it would remove the “seatbelt gag rule” and provide jurors “complete information when rendering a fair and just verdict.”

Critics say the bill puts the focus on issues other than who actually caused an accident, according to the Capital Chronicle.


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