As we’ve all seen in the past few months, our well-being depends on commercial vehicles delivering services and goods to distribution centers, retail outlets, and our front doors. It is essential. Unfortunately, lawsuits against commercial vehicle owners and operators have become big business for the cadre of plaintiff lawyers who are endlessly searching for another big payoff.
What started as lawsuits targeting big trucks has evolved. Now any vehicle with a company logo on it — no matter the size, industry, or whether they were at fault in a crash — is a target for lawsuits. That means everyone from rideshare services to restaurant delivery vehicles to plumbers is at risk of an unnecessary lawsuit.
Commercial vehicle litigation is reaching a tipping point that, unless addressed by the Texas Legislature, will result in business failures, increased costs of doing business for the companies that survive, and increased costs for the goods and services we all need.
Defining the Players
Commercial vehicles fall into a number of classes, from minivans used to deliver flowers to big rigs that carry goods across the nation. Many are small, “mom and pop” operations. In fact, nearly 88 percent of active carriers registered in Texas operate 10 or fewer vehicles. Many other commercial vehicles are operated by small businesses, from swimming pool cleaning to pest control. These are entrepreneurs doing their part to create jobs and make a living. And all of them are targets for personal injury lawyers because they all have deep pockets.
Yes, even the mom and pop operators of commercial vehicles have “deep pockets” because a commercial vehicle operating in Texas must carry substantial liability insurance, ranging from a minimum of $300,000 to a maximum of $5 million. Many carry more than the minimum, with layers of insurance reaching into the multi-million dollar range.
In addition to insurance coverage, many commercial vehicle operators have tangible assets that can be subject to judgments. In other words, through insurance and their own assets, these companies have deep pockets — which are irresistible to personal injury trial lawyers.
Trial Lawyer Targeting of Commercial Vehicles is Working
Personal injury trial lawyer ads seeking clients to file car crash lawsuits are ubiquitous on television, in newspapers, and on billboards. Many of the advertisements specifically seek clients to sue owners and operators of commercial vehicles. The advertising seems to be working.
Motor vehicle litigation is increasing in Texas, while other kinds of personal injury litigation are decreasing. According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits has climbed 118 percent from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2019. During the same period, other kinds of injury and damage cases decreased 7 percent.
Additionally, by 2019 in Texas, a lawsuit was filed after about one out of 10 vehicle crashes. Just 11 years earlier, in 2008, the lawsuit-to-crash ratio was 1 in 17. This is a 71 percent increase in the lawsuit-to-crash ratio in only 11 years. Anecdotal information we have received indicates the lawsuit-to-crash ratio may be closer to 1 in 5 if a large truck is involved.
Based on the data, it appears Texas is moving toward a litigation environment in which a collision with a truck — no matter who is at fault and no matter the severity of the event — is an opportunity to hire a plaintiff’s lawyer promising riches. That is simply not a place we can afford to go.
Abusive lawsuits kill Texas jobs. They make the products and services we need more expensive and harder to get. And they clog up the courts for legitimate lawsuits.
As we work to recover from the pandemic, Texas should be doing everything it can to create jobs and strengthen our economy. That’s why the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition — a broad coalition of nearly 80 businesses and industry groups of all sizes — has banded together to stop abusive lawsuits against commercial vehicles. The future of our state depends on it.
Visit www.keeptexastrucking.com for more information or to join the coalition.