Trucking tort reform could harm Texas drivers
Trucking companies in Texas are pushing some big changes to trucking accident liability laws during the 2021 Legislative session.
Texas House Bill 19 would make it more difficult to hold trucking companies financially responsible for damages and injuries if their drivers are involved in a crash. This is a systemic overhaul that would severely limit rights of truck crash victims following the accidents. The bill’s author, Rep. Jeff Leach has said the bill would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits, according to KXAN in Austin. Opponents argue that the bill would make Texas drivers and families less safe.
Here is a summary of how the changes would impact Texas drivers.
- Limits past failures by truck owners to comply with regulations or standards to 24 months prior to the date of the accident, unless certain conditions are met, such as that a reasonable jury could find that failure to comply with the standard was a proximate cause of the accident
- Unless parties agree, claimants who seek to obtain evidence of past violations or failures to comply with regulations or standards would have to obtain a court order to allow the discovery; if the trial court authorizes the discovery, discovery is limited to a time period beginning two years before the date of the accident until the date of the accident;
- Plaintiffs would have to show that a parent company displayed “grossly negligent behavior” to sue a company if their driver caused an injury or death. Otherwise, only the driver would be liable.
Commercial vehicle companies could only be held liable for injuries and deaths if their drivers are found to be negligent, AND damages in excess of nominal damages are awarded to the claimants, AND the defendant is found to have been grossly negligent for its conduct or omissions.
Proponents of the bill argue that it curbs a culture of opportunistic lawsuits against trucking companies but those who oppose the bill say it puts Texas drivers in danger. We agree that Texas drivers would be less safe if the bill passes.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Texas had more than 39,000 commercial vehicle crashes and 613 deaths in 219. That statistic is noteworthy because it represents the highest trucking crash death rate of any state in the nation. Of fatal crashes from 2014 to 2017, 12 percent involved large trucks and buses.
Issues that may impact victims of truck crashes:
- Poorly maintained equipment. In 2018, according to FMCSA statistics, there were more than 3.5 million state and federal inspections on trucks, buses and tractor trailers. That year alone, there were 992,681 violations on everything from speeding (regularly driving 6 to 10 miles OVER the speed limit) to traffic control violations to operating a cell phone while driving a commercial vehicle. There were 394,937 traffic enforcement violations, including moving violations and drug and alcohol violations. That’s a significant number!
- Pay structures that incentivize speed. Trucking companies pay by the mile. Already, drivers are incentivized to deliver loads as quickly as possible. When drivers aren’t moving, they aren’t making money. Until the compensation structure changes at these companies, the legal system is one way that they can be held accountable for the actions of their employees.
- Traffic violations. According to FMCSA statistics, in 2018, there were 250,100 moving violations, including 419 drug and alcohol violations. Speeding, failing to signal for a lane change, failing to yield, failing to keep the appropriate distance between vehicles… these are things we’ve probably all done in moments of thoughtlessness when driving home from work. However, the potential consequences of these actions for a large truck are far more extreme than for a passenger vehicle.
Anyone who has driven a long stretch of Texas highway on their way home from a vacation can likely attest to the dangerous presence of these trucks on our roads. They provide a necessary service delivering goods across the state – things that we all depend on – but when there’s no accountability, individual Texans are the ones who will pay the price. Interested in sharing your feedback with your representative? Click here to find your state representative and tell them it’s time to protect Texan residents not commercial trucking operations.