Commentary: The Legislature can curb abusive lawsuits

San Antonio Express-News, April 28, 2021

By Cristina Aldrete, Marina J. Gonzales, Richard Perez and Al Arreola Jr.

Turn on the TV or drive any Texas highway and you will see ad after ad by plaintiff lawyers seeking lawsuits against commercial vehicles — whether an SUV, pickup, sedan, van or 18-wheeler.

Searching for the next big payday, personal injury trial lawyers are villainizing the vans and trucks we rely on every day to keep our homes and communities running. Small businesses, especially those owned and operated by women and people of color, are the main drivers of Texas’ spectacular job growth. It is those very job creators who are most at risk in the toxic litigation environment of today.

Whether it’s a plumber on the way to your home to fix a broken pipe, a baker delivering bread or a pharmacy bringing medicine to a homebound Texan, any vehicle with a company logo is a target, no matter the industry, how minor the accident or who was actually at fault.

Abusive commercial vehicle lawsuits have created an unsustainable environment that is crushing small businesses and threatening jobs across Bexar County. San Antonio is a transportation hub, especially for the robust trade between Mexico and the United States. Every day, 15,000 trucks cross the Rio Grande through Laredo, many bound to or from San Antonio. That’s why the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are united in supporting HB 19, critical legislation to address this issue.

We believe HB 19 is a fair bill that allows Texans to access the courts when they are truly injured and hold bad actors accountable for their actions on the road, while shutting down the abusive litigation tactics that have led to a 118 percent increase in motor vehicle lawsuits in our state from fiscal years 2009 to 2019.

Left unchecked, lawsuit abuse becomes dangerous when it begins to impact even businesses that haven’t had accidents. Across the board, we are seeing less availability of insurance for commercial vehicles and radically increased premiums in Texas because of the runaway lawsuit environment. With 1 in 10 accidents resulting in a lawsuit in 2019, it’s clear the status quo poses an enormous risk to the Texas economy, especially small businesses that cannot absorb dramatic increases in insurance premiums.

Over the years, Texas has taken principled steps to encourage job creation and foster a positive environment for economic growth and opportunity. Any time anti-growth forces have arisen in the past, the Legislature has acted decisively to keep them from hurting our economy. This situation is no different.

Texas is a national leader in promoting strong economic growth while protecting the safety and quality of life of Texans. We know we must have commercial vehicles on the road — our communities cannot function without them. We also know we must have a fair legal system that holds negligent drivers accountable for their actions. The Legislature can and must find the middle ground that achieves both, and HB 19 is the solution.

This is not an issue between plaintiff lawyers and tort reformers, or plaintiff lawyers and big trucking companies. Abusive litigation by advertising personal injury lawyers and their soliciting agents is presenting an existential threat to the entire Texas economy.

We urge our elected representatives to support HB 19 to end abusive lawsuit practices so we can keep the men and women of Bexar County working. We are grateful for the leadership of those in the Bexar County delegation who are co-authors of HB 19 and urge the entire delegation to stand up for small businesses, jobs, and your friends and neighbors against this lawsuit abuse.

Cristina Aldrete is CEO and president of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Marina J. Gonzales is president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Richard Perez is CEO and President of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Al Arreola Jr. is president and CEO of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

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