By U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
A pair of bills making their way through the Texas Legislature will bring much-needed and sensible reforms to a litigation system run amuck. House Bill 19 and its companion in the Senate aim to rein in excessive lawsuits that deliver big paydays for lawyers while threatening jobs for one of the state’s most important industries, and driving up insurance rates for everyone else.
According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, lawsuits against trucking companies are going through the roof, more than doubling between 2008 and 2019.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have plastered the state with billboards and TV ads inviting drivers to sue, suggesting they can get tens of thousands of dollars any time a big rig is involved in an accident. These cases are often filed in plaintiff-friendly courts, which allow lawyers to use irrelevant evidence to convince jurors the trucking company was to blame because it violated some unconnected regulation, sometimes years before. Meanwhile, trucking companies are often prohibited from introducing photographs and video evidence that might show their drivers did nothing wrong.
The entire process is designed to tap into the “reptile theory” popular among trial lawyers. They try to scare jurors into believing trucking companies are a threat to public safety and convince jurors to hand out multi-million-dollar verdicts.
The truth is, accident rates are declining. And more than 80 percent of the 80,000 trucking companies in Texas are small, mom-and-pop enterprises struggling to survive as litigation-driven insurance rates have climbed 40 percent since 2018.
HB 19 has been carefully drafted to preserve a plaintiff’s right to sue and receive compensation while also requiring courts to adhere to existing state law. It doesn’t exempt trucking companies from liability, but it does require judges to keep the focus of the trial on what the driver did on the day of the accident, not whether a trucking company committed some paperwork violation years before.
That’s the law in Texas, and with HB 19, the state’s trucking industry, which employs one in 15 residents, is merely seeking legislation that requires courts to play by the rules.