Texas House backs revised truck injury liability rules

May 5, 2021

Keith Goble

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Pursuit of an overhaul to injury liability statute for truck operations in Texas is halfway through the statehouse.

House lawmakers voted last week to advance a bill that is intended to “ensure a level playing field” for plaintiffs and defendants in commercial liability cases.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, HB19 would protect trucking companies from what are described as 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.”

Critics voice concerns

Opponents of the measure say it would 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.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, voiced concern about limited liability for companies that would result from the rule change.

Countering concern about limited liability

Leach responded that limited liability would not result in a free pass for trucking companies. He assured that plaintiffs would not be prevented from pursuing justice.

He added that 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.

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

‘Common-sense public policy’

Leach said his 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.

“This bill represents strong, sensible and commonsense public policy,” he said.

“This bill is meant to address a very real and present threat to our state’s economy. The legislature has an opportunity with House Bill 19 to address it in a real and meaningful way.”

“At its core, this bill is about justice and fairness in our courts.”

He said the bill would ensure that negligent drivers and the companies that employ them will be held liable for accidents that they cause.

“At the same time, this bill installs a legal and procedural framework that will protect Texas businesses of all sizes from abuses in our justice system.”

Truckers support injury liability changes

Truckers in the state say the legislation would protect the industry from “abusive commercial vehicle lawsuits.”

The Texas Trucking Association adds that the bill is not just a trucking bill.

It’s not only trucking companies that are hurting from abusive lawsuits, but any company that operates a commercial motor vehicle,” reads a statement from the Texas Trucking Association following House passage of HB19. “For far too long, some trial attorneys have preyed upon these businesses and today the Legislature stood up and said it’s time for change.” 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.