Transport Topics, April 30, 2021
The Texas House of Representatives has passed legislation that would help curb the growing trend of lawsuit abuse targeting commercial vehicles in Texas.
House Bill 19, passed on April 30 by a vote of 81-49, was forwarded to the Texas Senate. The legislation has earned widespread support from the trucking industry and small businesses across the state, American Trucking Associations said in a statement.
“With this significant vote, Texas joins a growing number of states committed to stopping rampant lawsuit abuse by enacting measured, targeted and prudent reforms that restore balance and fairness to the civil justice system,” said ATA President Chris Spear. “For years the plaintiffs’ bar has been perverting the civil justice system into a profit center to line their own pockets, leeching off a critical link in the supply chain and the livelihoods of honest and hardworking truckers in their pursuit of Jackpot Justice. But those days are now coming to an end.”
ATA said that HB 19 ensures juries are presented with evidence that is directly relevant to causation and injuries in a highway accident and ensures the case is focused on the events at issue — not on extraneous allegations outside the scope of the underlying accident in the case that’s being heard.
The bill, if passed by the Senate in its current form, also includes a provision that would allow properly authenticated photographs or videos of a vehicle or object involved in a collision to be admitted into evidence. Presently, judges in Texas have discretion on whether to allow photo or video evidence, and in some cases are known to leave out photo evidence because it may be too gruesome or deemed not relevant.
Another provision in HB 19 would “bifurcate” a trial, only allowing allegations of unsafe motor carrier safety practices during its second phase. The first phase of a trial would allow evidence on who is at fault in a crash.
“The trucking industry says targeted, common-sense measures like these are necessary to reform a system that incentivizes frivolous litigation and nuclear verdicts, which are wreaking havoc through insurance markets and punishing all motor carriers regardless of their safety record,” ATA said.
In a statement on the bill’s passage in the House, the Texas Trucking Association said that HB 19 is “not just a trucking bill, it is a Texas bill.”
“It’s not only trucking companies that are hurting from abusive lawsuits, but any company that operates a commercial motor vehicle,” the association said. “For far too long, some trial attorneys have preyed upon these businesses and today the legislature stood up and said it’s time for change.”
HB 19 has sparked a “spirited” fight between truckers and plaintiffs’ attorneys in a state that is among the leaders in the number of crashes involving trucks and the huge jury verdicts that result in civil lawsuits.
The fight over HB 19 generated more than 800 public comments, and more than 40 individuals signed up to testify at a hearing in March before the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.
“The Texas House has taken an important step to ensure our legal system provides appropriate remedies for injured Texans without allowing rampant lawsuit abuse to wreak havoc on small businesses,” said a statement issued by the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition. “The goal of HB 19 remains now as it has always been — to ensure accident victims can be compensated fairly in our courts, and that small businesses can continue to safely operate commercial vehicles without being put out of business by frivolous and abusive litigation,” the coalition said.