New Texas law aims to tone down nuclear verdicts
Texas lawmakers last month passed a bill, which has since been enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott, that adds a layer of protection for motor carriers in post-crash litigation. The law will come into force on September 1.
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The new law, known as HB19 from its path through the state legislature, requires a jury to find a trucking company or truck driver responsible for an accident before exemplary damages. can be requested in a civil case. It allows a defendant trucking company to seek a two-phase lawsuit in which the first phase would be used to determine liability for the accident itself and the amount of compensatory damages awarded. The second phase would be to determine any negligence on the part of the motor carrier, such as driver training or equipment problems, and the amount of exemplary damages awarded.
The law is a blow to lawyers for plaintiffs who used reptile theory to sue trucking companies for important verdicts in a lawsuit, whether or not the trucking company was responsible for the accident.
As previously covered by CCJ, Reptile Theory is a tactic used by the Complainants’ Bar to portray a trucking company as a bad actor without necessarily focusing on the facts of the accident being sued.
Keep Texas Safe, a group run by Ruben Herrera with Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys, argued that “HB19 excuses truck and utility vehicle driver’s fault for accident.[s] in all but the most extreme cases, virtually offering truck drivers a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It also exempts companies that employ these drivers from any independent compliance with federal or state safety regulations, such as training or servicing their vehicles. “
Despite criticism of the legislation, Texas Trucking Association President and CEO John Esparza said the new law would still protect the rights of Texans and all Americans traveling through Texas who may be involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, “but at the same time reducing the possibilities for some of these litigators to manipulate evidence at trial in which they have sought millions and millions in damages in cases where the owner of the commercial vehicle was not at fault and where the plaintiff in many cases was not even injured.
Esparza noted that over the past few months, a TXTA member “spent over eight hours testifying about an accident that happened, and not a single one of those questions focused on the accident itself. It was all in the business.
One high-profile case that helped boost this legislation was the nearly $ 90 million verdict against Werner Enterprises in a 2014 accident in which Werner’s driver Shiraz Ali was not at fault. The jury in that case, however, determined that due to Werner’s policies, Ali should not have been on the road at the time of the accident given the weather conditions, even though the driver of the van who drove bumped into Ali lost control and crossed a median. .
Esparza said he believes the Werner case wouldn’t have turned out this way if this law had been in place.
“I think in that case, we wouldn’t even have this conversation about Werner right now,” he said. “Mr. [Derek] The leathers out there are said to be much happier with the Texas state court system than they are today. “
Esparza also credits the American Transportation Research Institute with a study on nuclear verdicts and the impacts major verdicts have had on insurance rates for trucking companies. He said in the previous legislative session that lawmakers called for more data rather than anecdotes on rising insurance costs.
“Things have to be broken before they can be fixed all too often, and that can be a dangerous proposition when you talk about the risk small businesses take when trying to survive year after year, and whether or not they have a recordable accident, they see insurance rates increase as a result, ”he said. “It’s a tide that unfortunately lifts all boats. And it’s even more frustrating for companies that have said, “I’m not even involved in an accident,” but they are seeing significant increases because of the abuse that exists. So we were able to demand some measure of change which we believe will have a lasting impact on the abuse there. “
Esparza believes the new law will have a positive impact on insurance rates in Texas going forward, and added that a provision in the law requires the Texas Department of Insurance to conduct a six-year study on the effect. of the law on insurance tariffs.
While Esparza has said this law is a step in the right direction, it likely won’t be the last form of tort reform that TXTA and others are working on in the future.
“We’re going to look at this and see how the Complainants Bar reacts, see what other areas they might seek to abuse,” he said.