Abusive commercial vehicle litigation is built on presenting misleading evidence to the jury—whether inflated medical bills or prejudicial evidence about a commercial vehicle operator’s conduct. The Legislature can rebalance this by clarifying the rules for how these lawsuits are tried and ensuring juries have the necessary facts to award a fair verdict.

HB 19 protects the rights of Texans who are truly injured in a commercial vehicle accident, while reducing opportunities for some trial lawyers to manipulate evidence at trial to seek millions in damages in cases where the commercial vehicle owner was not at fault or the plaintiff was not injured. 

HB 19 will help ensure the “rules of the road” for highway accident cases are applied in a uniform and fair manner in all Texas courtrooms.

In turn, this will literally save small businesses operating commercial vehicles in Texas from bankruptcies and closures by freeing up money currently spent paying sky-high insurance premiums for more productive purposes. 

  • A defendant can request a two-part trial in any case involving a commercial vehicle. Two-part trials are already used in both civil and criminal cases in Texas.
  • In all commercial vehicle lawsuits, the negligence of the driver, the negligence of the employer in maintaining the vehicle, and compensatory damages are determined in the first phase of trial. In some cases, the employer’s negligent entrustment of the vehicle to the driver is also determined in the first phase. Liability for and the amount of exemplary damages for all causes of action is determined in the second phase of trial.
  • In regard to evidence of regulatory violations, HB 19 codifies the well-established law of negligence per se.
  • HB 19 creates a presumption that photos and videos of the vehicles involved in the accident will be admitted into evidence.
  • Finally, HB 19 requires TDI to conduct a six-year study on the effect of the bill on insurance rates and availability and report its findings to the Legislature before each regular session.
  • Ensures juries are presented with evidence that is directly relevant to causation and injuries in the accident. Evidence of alleged unrelated safety violations should not be presented to the jury except to support a claim for punitive damages in the second phase of a two-part trial.
  • Ensures the case is focused on the events at issue, not on extraneous allegations of improper employment practices by the defendant.
    • A grossly negligent employment practice, however, can be introduced into evidence if it contributed to causing the accident, but upon the defendant’s request, that evidence will be presented during the second phase of a two-part trial.
  • Allows both parties to submit photographs and videos of the vehicles involved in the accident.
  • Allows parties to a lawsuit to present more information about the true value of the healthcare services provided, not just the amount billed by the healthcare provider.
    • Along with evidence of the amount billed, the jury should be provided the amount that would be paid for the services by health insurers, government payors, and other sources so it can determine a fair and reasonable amount to award to the plaintiff.
  • Although often used to avoid the paid or incurred statute, letters of protection are not prohibited in the proposal because they can be used for a legitimate purpose. But the fact that a letter of protection is being used in a case must be disclosed to all other parties to the case.

Note:  Bill language is subject to change throughout the legislative process.

We cannot expect juries to arrive at a fair decision when given misleading, extraneous and purposely prejudicial information. The Legislature can rebalance this litigation by clarifying the rules for how commercial vehicle lawsuits are tried. This will ensure juries have the facts necessary to award fair compensation to Texans who are injured by the negligence of a defendant, while ensuring the litigation playing field is level for all players.

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