The Texas Senate Transportation Committee has unanimously approved a House bill that would help curb the growing trend of lawsuit abuse targeting commercial vehicles in Texas.
Texas HB19, passed by the state House on April 30, will now be forwarded to the full Senate for a vote likely later this month.
The legislation has earned widespread support from the trucking industry and small businesses across the state, according to testimony before the Senate transportation committee on May 12.
Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, told the committee that the state’s 65,000 trucking companies are essential to the state’s economy.
“These Texas companies are heavily regulated by the state and federal government and are experiencing a sharp increase in the number of collision lawsuits that have been filed against them,” Taylor said. “As a result commercial insurance rates are skyrocketing, increasing about 10% in 2018, and another 30% in 2019.”
Lee Parsley, general counsel of Texans For Lawsuit Reform, said many of the costly lawsuits being waged against truckers are unrelated to accident severity.
“The methodology used to pursue these lawsuits is taught in seminars in Texas, and we think it’s fundamentally unfair to defendants in the lawsuits,” Parsley told the committee. “This bill is not radical in any sense. It simply tries to apply some elements of existing Texas law across the state to make sure that all of these cases are applied to the same rules everywhere in Texas.”
The bill, if passed by the Senate in its current form, 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 HB19 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.
It also 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.
John Mondics, president of Mondics Insurance Group Inc., said that the rise in lawsuits against truckers has resulted in Texas becoming a state in which insurance underwriters do not want to do business.
“We’re seeing across the board small trucking companies close their doors every day,” Mondics said. “We average one or two clients a week that are no longer in business due to claims that underwriters are paying.”
“I am frightened and alarmed about the commercial litigation environment in Texas,” said LouAnn Wagner, CEO at San Antonio-based Texas Auto Carriers Inc. “In the last 10 year my company has experienced year-over-year double digit insurance premiums, not because we have high claims experience — we don’t — but because we’re in an industry that has been unfairly targeted by excessive and abuse litigation.”
“As it stands today, we have to go into a courtroom with our hands tied behind our backs,” said Adam Blanchard, president of San Antonio-based Double Diamond Transport.