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March 17, 2015 3:30 PM, EDT

Arkansas Lawmakers Approve Liability Protection for Truckers

Arkansas is poised to become the 42nd state to pass a law protecting truckers from having to sign contracts that require them to assume all liability for accidents regardless of who is to blame.

An anti-indemnification bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers, with the House voting 76-4 on March 16 to send the bill to the desk of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. On March 9, the Senate vote was 24-5.

Under state law, Hutchinson has five days in which to sign a bill once it reaches his desk.

The bill contains an “emergency clause,” meaning it would become effective as soon as the governor signs it, Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton said.

The Arkansas truckers tried and failed in 2013 to get an anti-indemnification bill passed. That year, transportation funding and other issues competed for legislators’ attention.

Newton credited passage of the legislation in part to the two Republican lawmakers the truckers chose to carry the bill, Sen. Jon Woods and Rep. Micah Neal.

“They both represent northwest Arkansas, which is a very transportation centric part of the state,” Newton said.

ArcBest Corp., which owns ABF Freight, is located in Fort Smith, J.B Hunt Transport Services in Lowell, and USA Truck in Van Buren. All are in the Transport Topics Top 100 list of for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Even such large carriers were not exempt from the pressure to sign contracts in which they have had to assume all liability if an accident occurs, Newton said.

“The shipper pushes across a piece of paper and says, ‘This is my standard contract, and in order to do business, you’ll sign it.’”

Once the Arkansas bill becomes law, only Mississippi, Ohio, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire will be without anti-indemnification laws.

New Jersey truckers have a bill moving through both chambers of the Legislature this spring that is getting a good reception, said Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association.