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New Texas Law Changes the Rules for Suing Trucking Companies After Accidents

On June 16, 2021, Governor Abbott signed Texas House Bill 19, which changes how individuals can recover damages in actions involving commercial motor vehicles including 18-wheelers. Plaintiffs now must meet a higher standard of proof to hold a trucking company directly liable for conduct that may have contributed to causing an accident.

Under the new law, when a commercial vehicle owner or operator is sued after an accident, the court must first find the commercial driver liable before considering a claim against an employer for gross negligence in hiring, training or retaining the driver. The effect of the law is that accident victims may be able to recover damages only from the vehicle’s driver, who will have considerably less resources.

Texas House Bill 19 also allows trucking companies to limit their liability for damages caused by their employees to ordinary negligence if they stipulate that the driver was its employee acting within the scope of employment on the date the crash occurred.

When an individual sues a trucking company after an accident, the company can request that the court divide the trial into two phases.

The trial’s first phase focuses on determining liability of the individual driver and, if applicable, the amount of any compensatory damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. During the second phase, the court decides on the trucking company’s direct liability for gross negligence for actions such as negligent hiring, training or retention of the driver. The amount of punitive damages, if any, is also determined.

The plaintiff may present, even during the first phase of the trial, evidence regarding a limited list of compliance and regulation violations committed by the trucking company. However, evidence of a defendant’s failure to comply with regulations or standards will be admissible only to the extent that it proves that the noncompliance was the proximate cause of the bodily injury or death for which damages are being pursued.

In addition, the regulation or standard must be related to a duty of care owed by the trucking company to other drivers on the road.

Leland Reinhard Law Firm assists clients throughout Johnson, Hill, Somervell and Hood counties with a broad scope of personal injury matters, including cases involving trucking accidents. Call 817-645-5400 or contact me online to schedule a free consultation at my Cleburne office.