Paul H. Cannon is Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Personal Injury Trial law since 2005.
When Governor Gregg Abbott signed HB 19 into law, trucking companies hailed that day as a momentous victory for trucking companies. No victims of 18-wheeler accidents nor their surviving loved ones cheered. Gregg Abbott keeps talking about how all these bills he’s enacted are done to “put Texans first.” But does a bill that takes away a victim’s right to hold trucking companies and not just their drivers accountable really put citizens first or is it really just another law that puts big business interests ahead of the individual?
HB 19 Shields The Real Responsible Party - The Company
HB 19, now codified as Section 72-051-72-055 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code serves one purpose--it forces the injured victim to prove to the jury that the truck driver is liable for the wreck without the jury hearing what the company did to put him in that position. Under this new statute, the Trucking company is allowed to split the case into two separate trials. In the first phase, evidence of the trucking company’s negligent conduct is precluded. In fact, the trucking company may entirely limit the jury from hearing their conduct by choosing to stipulate that the driver was in the course and scope of his employment. Then, the only cause of action for liability that may be pursued is Respondeat Superior—the employer company is liable for the conduct of the employee by virtue of being the employer.
Why would trucking companies want to stipulate to being liable for the driver’s conduct? The answer is simple: it allows them to hide their own negligent conduct from the jury.
The Truck Driver is Rarely the Real Culprit
Truck accident lawyers learned long ago that truck drivers are rarely the real culprits in truck accident cases. Truck drivers are just hard-working guys trying to provide for their families for the most part. It is the greedy trucking companies that make unrealistic delivery promises and then expect their drivers to exceed federal driving-time requirements or cut short required downtime requirements in order to get the loads delivered on time.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all trucking companies are evil. But there are all sorts of regulations pertaining to 18 wheelers. And, more often than not, when we see an accident where a new driver is on the road going 55 mph in icy conditions to make a delivery even though the manual says they should reduce speed to 5 miles per hour and pull off as soon as possible, it is not because the driver felt free to make a decision between driving now and waiting out the weather and he just chose to risk his life now. Likewise, when we see a fatigued driver fall asleep at the wheel of his 18-wheeler and cause a crash, more often than not his company was pushing him to work those long hours.
The goal of this new law is to stop truck accident lawyers from showing the jury evidence that the real culprit in the case was the trucking company pulling the strings. The trucking company wants to be able to harness the sympathy people will have for a truck driver doing what he has to support his family so that they don’t get punished by a big verdict for their own true conduct that lead to the wreck occurring. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pass laws holding the companies accountable so that there is no evidence of their pushing drivers to violate laws and cut corners? Wouldn’t that be better for Texans? Once again, Texas politicians have passed a law to protect big business from the consequences of its own negligent actions.
Individual Rights Trampled for Corporations and the Greater "Good"
The irony of these laws passed by our government is that most people don’t even realize what it is---cleverly disguised socialism. The political theory at play here is that if you pass laws to benefit big businesses, they will move their operations to Texas. This is true even if it means sacrificing the individual’s rights. So, we pass laws to protect big businesses from their negligent conduct. More businesses move operations here. Those businesses make more money here because Texas laws favor business over the little guy. That ultimately creates more jobs which are good for society as a whole. When someone gets injured, and that threatens we take away their right to obtain justice. The individual’s rights are sacrificed for the greater good. Wake up Texas, you’ve been duped.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Paul H Cannon