The increased pursuit of compensation by truck accident victims, driven by knowledgeable representation from truck accident lawyers, has put a strain on the trucking industry.
In response, certain states have implemented legislation aimed at safeguarding trucking companies from overzealous lawsuits. Texas’ recently passed HB 19 law has sparked debate, as it raises concerns about the potential negative impact on the ability of truly deserving victims to receive fair compensation for their losses.
While the law seeks to protect trucking investors, it also raises questions about the balance between protecting businesses and ensuring victims’ rights.
The First Phase
Under the new law, victims seeking to file a case against a truck driver must file a motion divided into two phases, also known as a “bifurcated” trial. The first phase of the trial will address compensatory damages while focusing on the action and the inaction of the driver.
Under the principle of vicarious liability, employers are liable for accidents resulting from the negligent actions of their employees. However, HB 19 makes it almost impossible for victims to hold the trucking company responsible for the actions of their employees.
Unfortunately, truck drivers’ resources are not anywhere close to the resources of the company they work for. As a result, the driver may not be in a position to compensate the victims adequately, especially if the resulting injuries are severe.
The Second Phase
The second phase of the bifurcated trial looks at exemplary damages that result from gross negligence on the part of the trucking company. Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring that their trucks are in the best working condition and that their drivers do not work longer than stipulated in federal trucking laws.
The standard of proof for trucking companies has become significantly high under the new regulations meaning that not many victims will meet this threshold.
Also, gross negligence can only be established where there is an anonymous vote of all jurors in a truck accident case, up from 10 out of the twelve requirements before the new law came into effect.
Admissible Evidence Limitation
The new law also limits the types of evidence admissible when proofing a truck accident case. For example, a plaintiff can only present evidence that is the proximate cause of the accident when addressing employee negligence.
For example, if a truck driver fails to yield way at an intersection, the plaintiff may not enter a violation of driving hour limits as a factor since it is not the proximate cause of the accident. Such evidence can only be produced in the second phase of the bifurcated trial when seeking punitive damages.
Its Impact On Texan Roads and Victims
The recent passage of HB 19 in Texas, aimed at protecting trucking companies from excessive lawsuits, has received criticism from road safety organizations and lawyers. The law is seen as beneficial for trucking companies but detrimental to victims of truck accidents, potentially limiting their recoverable damages.
“The goal for genuine truck accident victims is not to profit from their misfortune,” says attorney Dan Christensen of DC Law. “It is to restore their lives to the best of their ability, considering the disruptive nature of an accident.”
Road safety advocates also worry that the relaxed approach to holding truckers accountable may incentivize non-compliance with state and federal trucking regulations, putting road users at risk. The new law raises questions about balancing the protection of business interests with ensuring justice for accident victims.