Texas Bills Seek to Address Nuclear Verdicts in Trucking

Heavy Duty Trucking, March 15, 2021

By Heavy Duty Trucking Staff

Texas legislators are trying to pass new laws that they say would protect the trucking industry from “abusive commercial vehicle lawsuits,” but personal-injury lawyers are fighting it.

House Bill 19 by Plano Republican Jeff Leach and related bills on file in the House and Senate have the support of the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition, which includes the Texas Trucking Association, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and others.

If House Bill 19 passes, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate “grossly negligent” behavior to sue a company whose employee caused injury or death. Otherwise, only the company’s employee would be liable for their actions, according to published reports.

Lucy Nashed with Texans for Lawsuit Reform told CBS7 in Odessa, Texas, that HB 19 is looking to address abusive lawsuits – “issues where the commercial vehicle wasn’t at fault in an accident and is still being sued, or an instance where the damage was minimal in the accident, but the lawsuits coming in for policy limits of a million dollars or more.”

In a video on the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition’s website, John D. Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, “We are in an environment of lawsuit abuse that the industry can’t sustain. If this continues, trucking companies will stop operating. It’s already happening.”

Any vehicle with a logo on the side is at risk, contends the coalition, as personal-injury lawyers run ads specifically targeting trucking companies. And even for companies that don’t end up in a lawsuit, the “nuclear verdicts” are driving up insurance rates.

“There’s no way to keep up,” said Lincoln Thompson, general manager, Duncan Thompson Transportation, in that same video, explaining that in six years his company’s insurance rate has gone up 225%. “There’s no way I can raise my rates 225% just to stay level, because nobody would use our services.”

Opponents of the bill say the bill protects big business at the expense of regular citizens and will drive up insurance costs for the average Texan. A prominent personal injury attorney, Thomas J. Henry, is working to gather support to stop the bill, which he contends could allow major trucking companies to no longer be held liable in court after crashes.

“If we don’t stop that legislation more people are going to die, and everyone else who’s a citizen is going to have to pay for those big trucking companies who kill people,” he said, saying “big companies and special interest are plowing money into those legislators,” in an interview with SBG San Antonio, one of many media outlets he’s been doing interviews with.

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