Texas Accidents with Commercial Vehicles in the Modern Era – Changes Under the New Legislation

September 8th, 2021|Trucking Accidents|

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), In 2019, Texas had more reported deaths resulting from trucking accidents than did any other state. Texas not only reports more truck accident fatalities than any other state but also ranks highly in regard to trucking accidents. Notably, trucking accidents increased 27% in the time between 2016 and 2019.

The Texas trucking industry is continuously growing. Some facts about the industry to note are:

  • 1 in 16 Texans are employed by the trucking industry
  • 73% of goods manufactured in Texas are transported by truck
  • 85% of trade between Texas and Mexico is handled by trucks
  • Texas has more interstate (centerline) mileage than any other state, totaling over 3,200 miles
  • There are over 300,000 miles of public roadway in Texas
  • There are over 66,000 trucking companies in Texas
  • Trucking industry wages exceeded $22.5 billion, with an average industry salary of $45,000
  • There are over 185,000 truck drivers employed in Texas, with an average salary of $34,500
  • Trucks represented 12% of the vehicle miles traveled in Texas annually
  • A truck can take between 15-20 hours to drive across Texas at its widest point
  • Texas Is ranked as the top state for exports
  • Texas is connected to Mexico by 28 international vehicular bridges. Seventeen of these crossings accommodate commercial import and export traffic with US Customer Services.
  • Mexico is the top international destination for Texas exports
  • Texas’ deep-water ports (including the Port of Houston, the Port of Beaumont and Corpus Christi, and the Port of Brownsville) allow Texas seaports to dominate foreign trade in the US. The Port of Houston is the largest gulf coast container port, handling more than two-thirds of all US Gulf coast container traffic. The Port of Beaumont and Corpus Christi rank in the top 10 among all US ports for total cargo volume.
  • Overall, top exports from Texas include petroleum and coal products, computer & electronic products, chemicals, machinery, and transportation equipment. Although almost all sectors of exported products are moved by truck in Texas, the top commodities moved by truck include agricultural products such as animals, animal feed, fish, grains, and fertilizer.
  • Texas is the second-largest state (second to California) in both population and as well as vehicle miles traveled annually, and trucks represented 12% of the vehicle miles traveled. Texas has both the largest highway and interstate networks in the nation. The interstate highway network is vital to the Texas economy as it connects to the other US economic centers.

Texas’ New Law Limits Liability for Trucking Companies

The law, Texas House Bill 19, has changed the law regarding personal injury lawsuits for accidents caused by truck drivers and trucking companies, and for accidents caused by commercial vehicles.

Most notably, companies can only be held liable for the injuries that victims sustain if the victims can prove in a lawsuit that the company that employed the driver committed gross negligence in hiring, training, or supervising their drivers and in drafting or implementing their internal policies. Essentially, if you are hit by an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle, you may only be able to sue the truck driver personally, and not the company that employed them.

Proving gross negligence is a much higher burden of proof than is proving general negligence. Under Texas law, proving gross negligence requires a showing that:

The offending party committed an act or omission which, when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the actor at the time of its occurrence, involves an extreme degree of risk (considering the probability and magnitude of harm to others) and of which the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.

This standard is meant to be difficult to prove because, in most other negligence-based cases, the injured party can prove that the injuries were caused by the offending party through a showing of general negligence alone. Also, to recover before a jury for gross negligence, a plaintiff must get a unanimous vote among the jurors, rather than the 10-out-of-12 vote required under the general negligence threshold.

Not only does the higher standard of proof make it more difficult for injured parties to recover against employers of commercial drivers, but the new law also requires that claims against a company of the at-fault-driver are severed from those against the driver. Plaintiffs will only get the opportunity to prove to the jury that a company was grossly negligent during a second phase of trial, after proving in the first phase of trial that the driver himself was negligent.

The new law serves to protect large trucking companies over safety of all private citizens on the road. It certainly changes the rights to recovery for those injured in a commercial vehicle accident.

If you have been injured in an accident with a commercial vehicle, contact the Houston trucking accident attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard for a free consultation and advice regarding your potential case.