It is no exaggeration to say that driving on a public road has become increasingly hazardous for Texans in recent years. Not only must drivers navigate crowded streets to run daily errands, commute to work, or travel for vacation or to visit family, but they must do so as traffic incidents and fatalities are going up.
There has been much recent attention on the hazards of sharing the road with large commercial trucks. Truck accidents across the nation have increased by 52% since 2009, and large trucks are involved in 68% of all passenger car occupant fatalities. Although trucks make up only 4% of all vehicles on the road, 10% of all traffic fatalities involve a truck or semi-trailer.
Backed up by such sobering data on truck accidents, it may come as a surprise that recently passed tort reform legislation in the Lone Star State complicates the claims process for those who have suffered catastrophic injury or loss of a loved one after a truck accident. While this is a boon to the auto insurance industry, it spells bad news for accident victims.
It is essential to find out how to receive timely benefits and maximize your compensation, especially if claims through your insurance or that of a third-party entity are denied or delayed.
Texas Auto Tort Reform Bill
The purpose of HB 19, according to its proponents, was to limit the damage of abusive lawsuits to commercial vehicle operators and their employers after there has been an accident involving a truck. Supported by both the insurance and trucking industries, the new law, now codified as Section 72.051, allows motor carriers to request a two-part civil action. With this new approach, there are two phases:
- The injured party must first file a negligence action against the truck driver.
- The plaintiff may then file a claim against the employer.
The intent of the law is to protect Texas commercial trucking companies both from a sharp increase in liability claims in recent years, as well as precipitous increases in commercial vehicle insurance rates. According to opponents, HB 19 disincentivizes truck companies from following safety measures, and it also makes it harder to penalize them when they are negligent.
Compensatory and punitive damages
In practice, the first compensatory phase of a truck accident claim will limit admissible evidence of negligence to improper truck maintenance and driver negligence. In the second phase, the jury must decide on punitive damages that make an example of egregious conduct by third-party defendants, but unfortunately, without seeing the evidence that would clearly prove the extent of the motor carrier’s negligence.
The larger scope of this legal approach to liability claims against the trucking industry is yet to be seen. It is instructive, however, to observe how willing motor carrier insurance companies will now be to settle out of court, and how important it may be to have legal advocacy to resolve settlement disputes.