The issue of commercial vehicle safety is a long-standing one in US legal history. Trucks were involved in 13 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2017, the latest data available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. So far, accident lawyers and road safety advocates have been effective at curtailing road hazards and giving victims the compensation they deserve. However, in several cases in which damages were paid, the trucking company could only be proven to be partially at fault at most. Still, they were made to pay out as much as nine figures in damages, even if the fault lay with the driver’s lack of understanding of their vehicle, negligence on the job, or other actions. This shared liability causing harsh damage payouts, trucking companies argued, could push the industry to the brink.
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Truck Companies to have Reduced Liability in Accidents
In recent years, lawyers have defaulted to appealing to jurors’ basic self-preservation instinct to drive damage claim cases. The crux of the argument is that the jurors themselves may very well be in danger if any part of a company’s safety policies might be lacking. “Reptile theory tactics,” as they came to be called, have been a subject of dispute for a while. As trucking companies struggle to recover from the economic turmoil of 2020, this court tactic remains a significant barrier to a full return to form.
In response, trucking associations from numerous states have sought the aid of the government to mitigate the issue. One such product of said lobbying is Texas House Bill 19, referred to in shorthand as HB19. Slated to come into effect by September 1, 2021, the bill ensures that the truck driver must first be found liable before any liability may be leveled against the motor carrier. This gives trucking companies a window of time to file for a bifurcation, which will split the trial into two parts. The first part will be for finding out whether or not the driver was at all liable. The second will determine whether or not the company had a hand in this liability, whether through negligence in hiring, training, or other human resource processes.
What This Might Mean for Potential Claimants Going Forward?
At their core, Texas House Bill 19
, and any similar bills to be drafted for other states thereafter, will mainly serve to distance motor carriers from the negligence of their drivers. This is the main source of accident claims, and so it will be harder to take that angle in court from now on.
But if a claimant is somehow able to prove that the trucking company was lacking in preparedness for such an eventuality, that would be enough to further the trial. This includes everything from poor maintenance to failure to meet commercial truck insurance requirements
. To make this a little easier, lawmakers might allow the admission of photographic and video evidence even without expert testimony, similar to what HB19 did. As long as said evidence is properly authenticated for presentation in court, it can be used to bolster the claimant’s case.
Why other states might pass their own motor carrier protection bills?
Currently, there is a tenuous balance between public safety and economic survival. Bills like HB19 will make it a little harder for lawyers to manipulate evidence to obtain substantial damage payments from trucking companies. If allowed to persist, tactics like Reptile theory
could pose a significant threat to a state’s logistic infrastructure. Understandably, such laws can drum up a lot of controversies. But ultimately, your state might decide that motor carriers should not be so easily financially ruined by a single unforeseeable accident, in the interest of preserving its logistic network.
Whether or not accident victims will increase in number due to such laws, as well as whether they will gain the compensation they deserve in the event of an accident, remains to be seen. But as a potential accident victim, it’s important that you are aware of your options in the event that a bill that favors truck companies gets passed in your state.