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How Will HB 19 in Texas Affect Future Truck Accident Litigation?

How Will HB 19 in Texas Affect Future Truck Accident Litigation?

HB 19 Creates New Liability Shields for Motor Carriers & New Challenges for Victims

House Bill (HB) 19 will transform the process for suing negligent drivers and motor carriers after 18-wheeler accidents. Taking effect Sept. 1, 2021, HB 19 allows for up a two-phase trial process for truck accident litigation.

While trucking industry leaders applaud the new Texas law, saying it will cut down on excessive litigation, victims’ advocates and transportation safety experts say it gives corporations a pass at the serious expense of public safety.

2 Ways New Texas Law HB 19 Reshapes Truck Accident Lawsuits

Expanding on the existing Civil Practice and Remedies Code, HB 19 will set forth these key changes in 18-wheeler accident litigation.

1. Breaking Up Trials into Two Phases

Defendants in truck accident lawsuits will be able to file motions for a bifurcated or 2-phase trial. If the court grants the motion, the first phase would involve liability determinations for compensatory damages, and the second phase would focus on exemplary or punitive damages.

Additionally, only the truck driver (employee) could be identified as a defendant in the first phase of the trial. The motor carrier (employer) would only be identified and become a defendant in the second phase IF the driver is found negligent in the first phase of the trial.

Effectively, that means that truck accident lawsuits could proceed to trial without the court and juries knowing who the associated motor carrier is. That gives trucking companies a powerful shield against potential liability in 18-wheeler accident litigation.

2. Limiting Evidence

When a truck accident case involves allegations of motor carriers’ noncompliance with any trucking regulations or standards, plaintiffs will be limited as to what they can bring as evidence. Specifically, HB 19 limits potential evidence of violating trucking regulations and standards to items that are “proximate cause of the bodily injury or death for which damages are sought in the action.”

HB 19 also limits the standards and regulations that can be cited to those that are specific to “a duty of care applicable to the defendant, the defendant ’s employee, or the defendant ’s property or equipment when any of those is at issue in the action.”

Finally, HB 19 states that, when it comes to the employer/motor carrier, plaintiffs can only bring evidence of negligent entrustment during the first phase of trial. Any other alleged employer negligence would have to be reserved for the second phase of trial.

Potential Impacts of HB 19

The changes that HB 19 will bring are going to favor corporations while putting truck accident victims and the traveling public at a disadvantage, some say. In fact, several safety organizations and victim advocate groups have come forward to warn about the risks of HB 19, forecasting that it has the potential to:

  • Unfairly limit victims’ financial recoveries: When juries know what motor carriers are associated with a negligent driver in an 18-wheeler accident case, they can be more inclined to grant larger awards if larger, more monied corporations are involved. That’s because juries tend to see these bigger name companies as having a greater responsibility and more resources to comply with safety standards, when compared to a smaller operation.
  • Make the roads less safe: With new liability shields, motor carriers have less incentive to comply with trucking regulations, some warn. Texas Watch and the Texas Public Interest Research Group have both noted how companies have essentially gotten a get-out-of-jail-free card with HB 19, opening a window of possibility for them to flout safety standards and regulations while potentially dodging liability for wrecks caused by that type of negligence.

With these changes in Texas law and the new uphill battles they create for crash victims, it’s more important than ever to have the counsel and representation of an experienced truck accident lawyer for 18-wheeler wreck claims.