December 15, 2020 2:30 PM, EST

Trucking Seeks Liability Protections as Congress Debates New COVID-19 Aid

Truck driver wearing maskA truck driver wears a mask. American Trucking Associations in a Dec. 11 letter asked congressional leaders to include provisions on the matter of liability protection for truckers. (andresr/Getty Images)

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The trucking industry is asking Congress to guarantee liability protection for motor carriers on the front lines of the coronavirus relief effort. The move comes as federal lawmakers aim to close out the year with legislation that would provide additional emergency funds to the transportation sector.

Transportation operations would receive $45 billion under a relief bill from a bipartisan group of senators and House members pushing to assist stakeholders during the pandemic.

The new round of emergency aid would target operations at airports and the airlines, and public transit and bus systems, as well as Amtrak, according to the $748 billion measure. Additionally, the bill would aim to assist small businesses and supply chain operators involved in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

A separate bill, also from the bipartisan group of lawmakers, would provide $160 billion to assist relief efforts at states and municipalities. It also would establish and seek to affirm myriad liability protections for stakeholders engaged in the pandemic response. Such protections would apply to claims stemming from injuries as early as December 2019.

American Trucking Associations asked congressional leaders in a Dec. 11 letter to include liability-protection provisions.

“Congress should provide that motor carriers are not held liable if, despite reasonable efforts and absent willful/gross misconduct, they are alleged to have exposed customers or employees to the coronavirus in the course of serving the nation’s supply needs during the crisis,” ATA President Chris Spear wrote. “The trucking industry is proud to play an outsized role in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, and we ask that you consider the essential nature of the trucking industry as you consider the inclusion of reasonable liability protections in any future legislation.”

ATA addressed the letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and leaders in the congressional minority.

Congressional leaders had yet to schedule consideration of a new round of pandemic aid as of Transport Topics’ publishing deadline. Relatedly, fiscal 2021 funding legislation that would avert a partial government shutdown also had not been scheduled for consideration. Government funding authority expires Dec. 18.

Transportation stakeholders are calling on Congress to approve billions of dollars in additional pandemic relief. For instance, to avoid disruptions in service, transit operators have renewed calls for additional aid. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers pressed for passage of the $748 billion relief bill.

“Failure to pass this legislative package will mean that small- and medium-sized equipment manufacturers will continue to struggle to keep the lights on and workers on the job, result in continued financial hardship for millions of Americans and create unnecessary delays in combating the COVID-19 pandemic,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers Senior Vice President Kip Eideberg said Dec. 16.

ATA Letter by Transport Topics on Scribd

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a co-sponsor of the latest proposal, on Dec. 15 noted, “We were able to reach agreement on a two-part relief package that includes emergency relief for small businesses, unemployment insurance, funding for vaccines and health care providers, as well as state and local assistance and a national liability shield for COVID-[19]-related lawsuits.”

Co-sponsors included Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Congressional leaders have yet to schedule consideration for the new round of COVID-19 relief measures.

For fiscal 2021, senators proposed providing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety operations and programs account with $300.8 million. For FMCSA’s safety grants, Senate appropriators proposed $391.1 million. House funding leaders approved their transportation measure in the summer.

Adjournment of the post-election lame-duck session is likely to occur before Christmas.

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