Semi-Truck Injury Claims have changed after this new law

2021 Legislation Changed How Texans Can Recover from 18-wheeler Accidents

18-Wheeler Claims Have Changed

House Bill 19 was signed on June 16th, 2021 and went into effect as Section 72.051-055 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code the following September.

State Representative Jeff Leach authored the bill. Its stated purpose is to prevent excessive lawsuits against companies and commercial vehicle drivers. In actuality,  the new law dramatically affects how victims of 18-wheeler crashes can pursue justice for their injuries.

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What does HB 19 say?

Under this new law, defendants in 18-wheeler cases can request a bifurcated trial. A bifurcated trial splits the trial into two phases.

Phase 1: This phase focuses on driver fault and compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are damages aimed to “make the victim whole.” Compensatory damages cover the victim’s medical bills or lost wages. The jury cannot know the identity of the company that employs the driver during this phase.

There are some specific claims against employers allowed in Phase 1. If the employer did not maintain the vehicle, the plaintiff (injury victim) can present this claim in Phase 1.

At the beginning of a bifurcated trial, the employer must state whether the driver was acting within the scope of employment. If the driver was not acting within the scope of employment, then a plaintiff could pursue a negligent entrustment claim (essentially allowing someone to use a vehicle when they are not trained, qualified, etc.). However, the law limits the violations and evidence a plaintiff can use to prove this claim.

Phase 2: The second phase focuses on the liability of all parties including the employer and any exemplary damages. Exemplary damages penalize or send a message about severe wrongdoing. To award exemplary damages, plaintiffs must establish a more severe degree of fault.

With this new law, the state is also doing a 6-year study on the bill’s effect on commercial vehicle insurance. The expectation is that rates will fall. You can read the text of the law here.

What does this Mean for Victims in 18-Wheeler Accidents?

Establishing liability is always a complicated component of 18-wheeler accident claims. Because 18-wheelers are commercial vehicles, they operate under stricter guidelines than regular automobiles. There are also more entities involved in their operation. This creates more questions surrounding who is liable in 18-wheeler crashes.

Several new complications arise from this new trial structure. First, plaintiffs cannot introduce evidence of the company’s past violations in Phase 1. Evidence of negligence during training is also not allowed in Phase 1. If the company has a history of negligence in its operations, the jury won’t be able to hear about it unless the trial progresses to Phase 2.

18-wheeler accidents

Often, workers have little or no say on their duties and schedules. This is especially true in the trucking industry. Most truck drivers are independent contractors. They don’t have much say over their routes or drop-off times, and these factors can affect their driving. This new law protects companies from direct punishment. It also places a unique responsibility on individual drivers. As a result, victims must jump through hoops to receive fair settlements from the true at-fault party: negligent trucking companies.

Many Texans fear that this law will now put more drivers in dangerous situations. The law diminishes chances of legal recourse against corporations. Now, trucking companies have less incentive to properly train their drivers and set high safety standards.

Contact an Experienced 18-Wheeler Accident Lawyer

HB 19 is disheartening for victims of 18-wheeler crashes. Our team of attorneys has the experience and the knowledge needed to navigate these claims and receive justice for victims.

We are personal injury trial lawyers with experience with 18-wheeler cases. We know the extensive toll an 18-wheeler can take on your body, mind, and finances. You don’t have to deal with it alone. Our only job is to help you heal and receive the settlement that you deserve. Call us to set up a free strategy session so we can discuss your claim and set up a game plan.

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