Texas Introduces the Disposable Trucker Law
Of of the more controversial bills in this session of the Texas Legislature is House Bill 19/ Senate Bill 17 (HB 19/SB17). This bill has truck accident injury attorneys up in arms, because it makes it more difficult to hold trucking companies accountable for accidents.
One of the most discussed parts of HB 19 is the limits it imposes on injury victims seeking to prove trucking company negligence. If HB 19 becomes law, it will limit victims and attorneys to reviewing only the previous 2 years’ worth of safety records, hiring practices, and regulatory compliance at a trucking company. Further, attorneys can only present those findings to a jury if they directly address the cause of a crash.
In practice this means that a trucking company could have a long list of a safety violations, which demonstrate a corporate culture that doesn’t make safety a priority, but as long as it doesn’t directly lead to a crash, the company doesn’t have to worry about those issues coming up at trial.
While most of the attention so far focusses on the harm HB 19 could do to truck crash victims, no one has noticed that this bill will harm truckers, too.
How Will HB 19 Harm Truck Drivers?
HB 19 makes it more difficult for an injured victim to hold both a trucking company and a driver responsible for the wrecks they cause. Whether lawmakers intend it to or not, the law empowers trucking companies to further reduce their liability at the expense of truck drivers.
The law limits how victims and their attorneys can hold trucking companies accountable for killing or injuring someone. One of the few avenues open to hold both the driver and trucking company accountable is to show that the trucking company’s carelessness directly led to the wreck.
For instance, if a trucker causes a wreck because he was speeding, absent evidence that the trucking company looked the other way when their drivers drove above the speed limit, it’s likely going to be difficult to prove that the company played a role in the crash, even if they had a company culture that led to drivers speeding.
Instead of rewarding trucking companies who follow the rules, as our current system does, HB 19 incentivizes smart corner cutting. This will profoundly affect truckers.
HB 19 Gives Trucking Company a Hard and Fast Rule to Sideline Drivers
Should HB 19 become law, it will provide trucking companies with greater protection against lawsuits. They’ll still be liable for the damage their drivers cause, but there will be less scrutiny of company decisions, which cause wrecks.
HB 19 also offers trucking companies a path to further insulate their business from liability. By avoiding drivers with even minor infractions, companies can keep their focus on a driver’s actions, not managements.
For instance, if a driver gets a speeding ticket, HB 19 incentivizes companies to let the driver go. How? Should that driver be involved in crash that resulted from speeding, then the company’s decision not to terminate the driver could potentially find its way into court. The inability to review a company’s history beyond a 2-year window means that juries will never be able to consider the totality of a company’s record. It will place a premium on employing drivers with 2 years of clean driving, and penalize those who don’t meet that standard.
Smart trucking companies will discover these incentives and adjust their hiring and retention accordingly. This means that drivers with 20 years of safe driving could find themselves out of work over a speeding ticket, while drivers who killed someone, as long as it’s outside the 2-year window, will take their place.
Instead of rewarding safe, professional drivers with proven track records, HB 19 forces companies to prioritize a small sample of 2 years, regardless of what else lurks in a driver’s past. It makes truckers disposable and puts the rest of us at greater risk.