Texas Senate approves revised truck injury liability rules

May 21, 2021

Keith Goble

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An overhaul to injury liability statute for truck operations in Texas is nearing passage at the statehouse.

The Senate voted 30-1 this week to advance an amended House bill that is intended to “ensure a level playing field” 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 concerned about injury liability bill

Opponents of the measure say the injury liability bill would overhaul the state’s civil justice system for the benefit of one industry.

They add that changes in liability law 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 late last month on the House floor, Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, voiced concern about limited liability for companies that would result from the rule change.

Countering criticism about limited liability

Advocates say that limited liability would not result in a free pass for trucking companies. Leach has continued to assure lawmakers that plaintiffs would not be prevented from pursuing justice.

He has 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.

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.

Protection from ‘frivolous lawsuits’

Speaking on the Senate floor this week, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said 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 support liability reform

Truckers in the state say the legislation would protect the industry from “abusive commercial vehicle lawsuits.” They add that the bill is not just a trucking bill. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft and any other vehicle being used for commercial purposes also are covered.

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

“HB19 proves that Texas can protect the rights of victims who are injured by the negligence of others on our roadways without letting abusive lawsuits decimate small businesses and the commercial vehicle network we rely on every day,” reads a statement from the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition.

Texas Trucking Association president and CEO John Esparza added that with the bill’s passage “the trial process will continue to ensure accident victims are compensated when wrongfully injured, while also protecting businesses across the state from biased and unfair courtroom tactics.”

The measure has moved back to the House for approval of changes. If approved there, it would head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. If not approved, a conference committee made up of select members from both chambers would meet to work out differences before the bill heads to the governor. 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.