New Texas law revises truck injury liability rules

June 17, 2021

Keith Goble

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A new Texas law is described as an overhaul to injury liability statute for truck operations.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Wednesday a bill that is intended to “ensure a level playing field” in commercial liability cases. Previously HB19, the new rule protects trucking companies from frivolous lawsuits in instances where the driver was not negligent.

Additionally, a court would be required to dismiss a lawsuit against a truck operator if the injury or death of another person was caused while the operator was carrying out their duties “within the scope of employment.”

Pros and cons of injury liability statute debated

Opponents of the rule change say it amounts to an overhaul of the state’s civil justice system for the benefit of one industry.

They add that changes in liability law will result in vehicle and insurance rates increasing for Texas residents. They cite figures that show the Lone Star State leads the nation in truck wreck injuries and deaths.

Advocates counter that limited liability would not result in a free pass for trucking companies.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano assured lawmakers during discussion on the bill that plaintiffs would not be prevented from pursuing justice.

Cases going to trial would have two phases. The first phase would focus solely on the incident under the negligence standard. A second phase would cover expanded legal issues resulting from the incident.

Essentially, the truck operator must be proven liable before their employer could be taken to court.

“It does not limit in any way the ability of Texans to hold companies liable and responsible,” Leach said.

Protections needed

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, added on the Senate floor that the bill is focused on protecting truck operations of all sizes from frivolous lawsuits. In addition, he said it would ensure injured people can pursue damages through the court system.

“House Bill 19 is designed to protect the rights of Texans who are truly injured in a commercial vehicle accident while shutting down the abusive practices some plaintiffs’ lawyers use to manipulate evidence at trial in cases where a commercial vehicle owner was not at fault or the plaintiff was not injured,” Turner said.

He added that HB19 “will help ensure the rules of the road for highway accident cases are applied uniformly and fairly in all Texas courtrooms.”

Truckers back changes

Truckers in the state say the new law will protect the industry from “abusive commercial vehicle lawsuits.” In addition to trucking operations, they add that the rule change will benefit ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft and any other vehicle being used for commercial purposes.

The bill was backed by groups that include the Texas Trucking Association, the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Texas Trucking Association Chairman Jonathan Kennemer said passage of the bill was a collaborative effort to reshape the course of lawsuit abuse not just for trucking but the entire commercial motor vehicle industry.

“Today is truly a historic day for the entire trucking industry and sends a message to predatory trial lawyers – hard working truckers are no longer your personal piggy banks,” Kennemer said in prepared remarks.

The new rule takes effect on Sept. 1. LL

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.