A new law expected to protect trucking companies from lawsuits but potentially leave individual truckers exposed has advanced through committee this week.
The Senate Transportation Committee voted to advance House Bill 19 on Wednesday morning, May 12th in Texas.
The bill would add limits to lawsuits involving commercial vehicles, and theoretically lower insurance costs, but here’s the catch: It’s focus is on protecting large trucking companies, not protecting truckers.
Supporters of the bill argue that the loose laws governing the extent of litigation against trucking companies are inspiring the massive lawsuits, as the plaintiff sees an opportunity to squeeze money out of a successful trucking company. Supporters of the bill believe that lawsuits against trucking in general would decrease with the passing of this bill.
“I am frightened and alarmed at the commercial vehicle litigation environment in Texas,” said Luann Wagner, CEO of Texas Auto Carriers in San Antonio, told the committee. “We are in an industry that is being unfairly targeted by excessive and abusive litigation.”
“No consumer wants to litigate. It’s our last resort,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group, to KSAT 12 News. “But we have to have the incentive to correct such that those commercial vehicle companies will take their own steps to protect consumers from crashes.”
If passed, the legislation will require trials to be split in a way similar to criminal trials in Texas – the company would have to be found negligent in a crash before the case could proceed to the second phase. Additionally, a company’s safety record could only be brought up in the second phase, where punitive damages would also be decided.
“This is not an us against them. It’s about what’s fair,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association. “I would want my kids and my wife to have the same access to the court and fair trial as what we’re advocating for.”
Committee members voted to send an amended version of House Bill 19 to the Senate floor. The differences in legislation will need to be ironed out before final votes will be counted in both chambers. If the bill is indeed signed by the governor, it will apply to lawsuits filed after September 1st.