Stop Lawsuit Abuse

Next time you drive down the road, take a look at the vehicles in the lanes next to you.

You may see a plumber in a pickup truck. You may see a delivery van for a brewery or a bakery, dropping off products at a restaurant. You may see a pharmacy worker delivering prescriptions, a local realtor on the way to a home showing, or a rideshare service making a drop-off in a sedan or SUV.

All of these are commercial or company vehicles. All of these are critical to our communities. And all of them are a target for frivolous lawsuits.

When you think of commercial vehicles, you may automatically think of the big trucks and 18-wheelers we see on the highways. Some personal injury lawyers have aggressively made these types of accidents the center of their practice. But now, any truck or car with a company’s logo on it is a target.

With automobile-related lawsuits up 118% from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2019, it’s clear there is a problem. In 2019, 1 out of every 10 accidents resulted in a lawsuit — that’s up 71% from 2008. We’re not seeing a correlation between increases in our state’s population (20%), crash fatalities (5%) or crash injuries (2.5%). Other types of personal injury lawsuits even decreased 7% over that time period. Something just isn’t right.

Many of these company vehicles are operated by small businesses. Today, nearly 90% of all commercial vehicle companies in Texas operate 10 or fewer vehicles. And these small businesses are feeling the pain. 

Insurers are raising rates for coverage in Texas because of the heightened liability environment. That puts serious financial pressure on Texas employers, who either have to absorb the cost of increased insurance or pass the cost along to their customers. In the worst cases, some even have to close their doors because they simply can’t keep up with the increase in insurance rates.

They aren’t the only ones who will struggle. If the Texas Legislature doesn’t act quickly to shut down this lawsuit abuse, it won’t be long before it starts affecting all of our pocketbooks — from the price of groceries and gas to the cost of home maintenance services and shipping on our packages.

No one wants to see an accident and we all want to see bad actors held responsible. If a commercial vehicle is responsible for an accident, they should be held accountable. At the same time, we depend on commercial vehicles operating safely every day, and they can’t continue to do so without fear of a lawsuit.

The Texas Legislature is considering reforms that clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and ensure juries have the facts needed to award fair verdicts. House Bill 19 by Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano and sponsored by numerous members of the Legislature, including Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, and Rep. Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, will help achieve this critical balance. 

Abusive lawsuits against the owners and operators of commercial vehicles continues to be a serious problem. Texas lawmakers should rein in these types of lawsuits that are driven more by greed than justice or safety. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: House Bill 19 was pending final approval as this edition of RGVision Magazine went to press.

Sergio Contreras is president and CEO of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.  Learn more at www.rgvcala.com

Sarah Sagredo-Hammond is president of Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, & Plumbing Services