Texas Legislature Takes Up Bill Limiting Commercial Liability in Personal Injury

On September 1, 2021 new legislation that regulates plaintiffs cases where commercial vehicles are involved will come into effect.

Some say the new law could let companies off the hook for personal injury damages in civil vehicle crash cases. Supporters of HB 19 say the bill prevents excessive lawsuits against companies, but public safety advocates warn the bill will make Texas roadways more dangerous, and pass the costs of personal injury claims onto the consumer.

None know at this time how the new rules will play out in litigation or court when they take effect next month.

Nearly 40,000 crashes involving a commercial vehicle took place in Texas in 2019. That year, 613 people lost their lives to commercial vehicle accidents in Texas. (Most recent data available via TxDOT from 2019.)

The bill was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on June 16, 2021. When this goes into effect, it will require plaintiffs facing serious injury to prove “gross negligence” on the part of the company who owns or had hired the driver of the commercial vehicle. This could rob injured victims of severe crashes from their day in court.

Under an unreasonably high bar, crash victims may be prohibited filing a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault company. Gross negligence is a more severe type of recklessness than negligence. This barrier is too severe. It serves to give trucking companies a free pass for reckless company behavior.

HB 19 passes liability from the company or corporation employing drivers directly to the drivers. If the plaintiff and their attorney can not demonstrate “gross negligence” on the part of the trucking company, the driver alone assumes liability.

A quick background on the legislation:

  • It was authored by State Rep. Jeff Leach. He claimed it would protect commercial vehicle operators from “unjust and excessive lawsuits.”
  • The bill was passed in the Senate with an amendment on May 20, 2021.
  • Of note: this bill was similar to one filed in the Texas Senate, Senate Bill 17. The bill was filed on March 11, 2021 but did not advance out of the Transportation committee.

Those who have spoken out in favor of the law are groups that represent the financial interests of the trucking industry. They say that the bill would prevent frivolous lawsuits.

On the other side, consumer advocates, traffic safety advocates, and personal injury attorneys have been in vocal opposition to changes made by the bill.
A nonpartisan Texas news publication in Texarkana wrote publicly about their opposition to the bill. The Texarkana Gazette wrote in a public opinion piece saying “The only ones who benefit — and benefit big — are trucking companies and maybe lawmakers when campaign donation season rolls around.”

These new requirements would limit an injured person’s ability to sue the at-fault trucking company by creating a two step legislative process. This legislation would protect large companies and corporations from accountability.

Truck accidents cause major harm to Texas residents. In 2019, 613 people lost their lives in Texas commercial vehicle crashes. Loss of life in truck accidents must be prevented through an abundance of caution in traffic safety. Some say this legislation gives trucking companies a free pass. HB 19 opponents point out that it shields what could be valuable information from jurors making decisions in court about personal injury cases.

This law will go into effect in Texas on September 1, 2021.

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