Trucking Industry Lines Up Behind H.B. 19
House Bill 19 was authored by State Representative Jeff Leach of Plano. According to his bill analysis, H.B. 19 protects commercial vehicle operators—which includes trucking companies—from “unjust and excessive lawsuits.”
The bill passed the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate and Governor Abbot signed the bill into law in June. It took effect on September 1, 2021.
Trucking industry groups like the American Trucking Association (ATA), the Texas Trucking Association, and the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition pushed the legislation. They portray truck accident lawyers as “bad actors” who use injury lawsuits “to line their own pockets” at the expense of “honest and hardworking truckers.”
However, the law does not shield truck drivers from lawsuits. They can still be sued without restrictions if they’re involved in a crash. It’s their employer that is protected, because once the trucking company admits the driver was working for it at the time of the crash, the jury will generally hear only about the driver’s own negligence and not the negligence of the employer. This gives commercial operators the ability to scapegoat their drivers for incidents that in reality are the company’s fault, such as improper training, failure to supervise, or hiring a driver who was too incompetent to be on the road in the first place.
Mary Rose, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Texas Tribune that, “There is a way in which this is throwing the employees kind of under the bus in the name of being nice to corporations.”
Critics also say that the law could make Texas roads—already among the most dangerous in the country—even more dangerous. Texas leads the nation in 18-wheeler fatalities. In 2018, Texas recorded 589 large truck fatalities—nearly double the amount of the second-highest state, California (314). Bay Scoggin, who directs the Texas Public Interest Research Group, said that the legislation raises the likelihood that Texas will have more dangerous drivers and dangerous vehicles on the roads.
The trucking industry is a powerful special interest group in Texas, where it provides more than 735,000 jobs, moves $1.6 billion worth of freight annually, and is a major component of Texas’ massive transportation and logistics system. About 1 in 15 Texas workers is employed by the trucking industry.
How the Trucking Accident Law Works
Under previous Texas law, when somebody was injured or killed in a commercial vehicle accident, it was possible for the plaintiff to bring simultaneous negligence claims against both the driver of the vehicle and the driver’s employer (e.g. a trucking company, or a company like Amazon). Now, a truck accident lawsuit is split into two phases.
During the first phase, the focus is solely on the negligence of the driver. Once the company admits that it employed the driver at the time of the crash, the evidence of the company’s own negligence (with a few narrow exceptions) cannot be presented to the jury. If negligence against the driver is proven, damages can be awarded to the plaintiff, but the jury may never learn about any bad conduct by the company.
Then, only if the case for driver negligence is established, the lawsuit can move to a second phase where the trucking company’s conduct is evaluated. In the second phase, the jury can learn about the company’s gross negligence (if any) and can order the company to pay the plaintiff additional damages. This could happen, for example, if it is revealed that the trucking company violated Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.
FMCSA sets forth numerous regulations that commercial vehicle operators must follow, such as drug and alcohol testing, vehicle inspection reports, and pre-employment checks for drivers. The leading FMCSA violations in 2020 included:
- Allowing a driver to operate with a suspended or revoked CDL
- Failing to implement a drug/alcohol testing program
- Failing to randomly test for drugs/alcohol
- Not using the proper method to record driving hours
- Falsifying a driver’s records
- Using a driver without first receiving the results of their pre-employment screening
Hurt in a Texas Truck Wreck? Call Jim Adler.
The new Texas trucking law was sold as reform-minded legislation that protects commercial vehicle companies from “unjust and excessive” lawsuits. But this ignores the very real and very serious injuries that truck accident victims suffer.
Our lawyers have seen firsthand what happens when trucking companies put profits over safety. In one case that we handled, an 18-wheeler driver, knowingly overworked by his employer, went through a red light at an intersection while fatigued. The driver broadsided an elderly grandmother’s car and caused massive internal injuries to her. She spent her last year on a ventilator in an acute care facility, unable to even speak, before finally succumbing to her injuries.
Texas motorists need more protection from reckless trucking companies—not less. If you or a loved one was involved in a commercial vehicle wreck, get the help and protection you need from Jim Adler & Associates. There are many truck accident law firms in Texas, but there’s only one Texas Hammer. Call us at 1-800-505-1414 or contact us today for a free, no-obligation case review.