A Texas House bill would shift wreck liability from commercial vehicle companies to drivers

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Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 5:50 PM CST
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Texas (KOSA) - Texas House Bill 19 could bring some big changes for trucking companies and those involved in big rig accidents and the lawsuits that follow a wreck.

The sticking point of this bill is who will take the blame if someone is hurt or killed in a wreck with a commercial vehicle.

The bill intends to shift that blame away from companies and onto individual drivers when injured parties file a suit.

Last month, the unthinkable happened to the Thompson family.

Margie Thompson and her 9-year-old Hazel were stopped at an intersection in Kermit when an 18-wheeler slammed into their car killing both of them.

“They were just doing what they loved coming from feeding their critters when a careless act took two of them away,” Michael Thompson said of his wife and daughter.

Thompson is pursuing a civil suit against the trucking company, but the law firm representing him says if House Bill 19 passes, that case could be shaken.

A crash report found the 18-wheeler was poorly maintained with several bad brakes and three flat tires. Kevin Glasheen said the suit should take a close look at the company’s safety standards to hold higher-ups accountable.

“Well, that’s a question we wouldn’t even be allowed to ask or get into under House Bill 19,” Glasheen explained. “All we would be allowed to do is say ok this truck driver failed to brake properly and caused a wreck. And that’s it.”

Glasheen is against the bill because he says if it passes all the blame for commercial vehicle wrecks will be put squarely on the driver’s behavior and give companies room to sidestep safety precautions.

However, Lucy Nashed with Texans for Lawsuit Reform said that’s not the case.

“That criticism is simply false,” Nashed said. “There is nothing in House Bill 19 that changes any of the safety standards for commercial vehicles that are operating in Texas.”

Texans for Lawsuit Reform wants the bill to move forward because said it will help curb frivolous lawsuits.

“What HB 19 is looking at doing is addressing these abusive lawsuits,” she explained. “Issues where the commercial vehicle wasn’t at fault in an accident and is still being sued or an instance where the damage was minimal in the accident, but the lawsuits coming in for policy limits of a million dollars or more.”

She said unreasonable claims can do serious damage to commercial vehicle companies and must be tamped down.

As for serious cases like Thompson’s, Nashed said the bill wouldn’t keep him from getting damages through the courts.

Glasheen acknowledges in the short-term defendants can still get what they’re owed, but management would be let off the hook if the court avoids key questions.

“Are they a safe company?” Glasheen said. “Are they not a safe company? Are they supervising the drivers? Are they maintaining their trucks? None of that would get to come in.”

Thompson said a suit won’t bring him peace no matter how it plays out in court. What he does want is at least some justice while he and his remaining daughter try to move forward from this tragedy.

“We’re just trying to stay strong for each other. Just make memories and I’m going to continue to build their legacy.”

The authors of Texas House Bill 19 are trying to move the bill out of the House Committee so it can be brought to a vote.

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