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Texas House Passes Bill To Change Lawsuits Against Trucking Companies

Jeff Leach outside of a home in Plano.
Bret Jaspers
/
KERA News
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano).

Safety advocates are concerned about its potential impact on road conditions.

A bill that would make it harder to get damages from trucking companies after crashes has passed the Texas House, though recent amendments may have softened the bill’s potential impact.

HB 19 would separate liability trials into two phases. The version that passed a House committee wouldn’t allow evidence of a company’s poor training or oversight of a truck driver to be shown in the first phase. Additionally, under the bill, the second phase would only consider claims of gross negligence, a charge with a much higher standard of proof than ordinary negligence.

Opponents, like the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, had said forcing questions about the hiring, training and oversight of a driver into the second phase would allow companies to hide evidence of negligence.

An amendment adopted Thursday, however, seemed to make the bill more palatable to some members of the Texas House, setting it up for its passage on Friday.

Proposed by Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio III, the amendment listed several types of evidence that could be introduced in the first phase of a trial and used to prove wrongdoing by a company. Examples include whether the driver was licensed to drive the truck or had been disqualified.

“Now with my amendment, negligence or responsibility can be allocated in phase one of the trial to the employer defendant,” Lucio said. “I think that that is very responsible.”

The amendment did not change the two-step trial process, or the gross negligence standard moving to phase two.

The bill’s sponsor, Plano Republican Jeff Leach, said HB 19 will help shield trucking companies from unfair lawsuits.

In a statement, the Texas Trucking Association said “House Bill 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.”

Road safety advocates still have concerns that the bill will erode highway safety by weakening lawsuits, which they see as a tool to help ensure trucking companies abide by safety rules.

Texas has more fatal crashes involving large trucks than any other state.

The bill awaits action in the Texas Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called the trucking legislation one of his top priorities for 2021.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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