New Texas law could protect trucking, rideshare and delivery companies from certain accident lawsuits

Editor’s note: This story previously twisted what the law required a plaintiff to prove in court in order to sue a company whose employee caused injury or death in a collision. This has been corrected below.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – On her lunch break after her teaching job in South Austin, Christina Sauceda was on her usual route when she suddenly saw a car swerve towards her.

“Exactly like, go for me.” I didn’t even have time to really react, ”she said.

She said the other driver hit his car so hard that his glasses flew out of his face and his knees hit the underside of his dashboard. The day after the crash, she overheard the man telling police he worked for Uber Eats. It wasn’t until a few days later that she really felt the pain.

“I was so stiff; I couldn’t even like turning my neck, ”Sauceda said, noting that she had to take several days off work.

On top of that, his car was destroyed. However, the most frustrating part of the experience was trying to get in touch with the other driver’s personal insurance and Uber’s insurance.

“Nobody took responsibility. I couldn’t get a rental car, so I was on the phone so much. I didn’t feel good. I was injured. I was in bed,” he said. she declared.

Now she is involved in a civil lawsuit against the driver and Uber. However, a new Texas law came into effect this month that could make it more difficult for people to seek damages against companies in these types of lawsuits.

Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) presented Bill 19 during the 2021 legislative session to avoid “unfair and excessive” lawsuits against commercial vehicles, which include trucking, delivery and even ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The law changes the procedure regarding what a plaintiff must prove when bringing an action against a driver and his employer after a collision. In some cases, the changes will limit the employer’s liability until a certain stage of a lawsuit.

Critics of the law, such as Sauceda’s lawyer Angela Tabares, told KXAN they feared a jury would find out which company the driver was employing unless the trial proceeds to phase two, when Exemplary damages are assessed. She said the change could impact the amount of damages awarded to her clients in these cases.

“In reality, their medical bills are probably more than the amount they can get from other insurance companies, so they’re just trying to get back to where they were before they were badly beaten,” she said of his clients.

However, in the legislative analysis for the bill, lawmakers noted that these new stipulations were necessary because “in many cases the accused person is not at fault, but must nevertheless spend increasing amounts in court and take out insurance”.

The bill received strong support from trucking industry advocates and the president of the Texas Trucking Association, who said they were “under attack.”

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in important verdicts,” John Esparza told KXAN in the spring.

Bobby Jenkins, owner of ABC Home and Commercial Services, explained: “In my opinion, it really got out of hand, and it has become very, very difficult for a business like mine to get liability insurance on my. vehicles.

According to the analysis of the bill, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits has increased by 118%, while the number of collisions has increased by single-digit percentages over the past 11 years.

For example, the Texas Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Facts notes that 3,896 people died in crashes in 2020, up 7.54% from the number of fatalities recorded in 2019. Meanwhile, 205,498 people were injured in road accidents in 2020, almost 20% down from 2019.

Before it was passed, Leach said, “If there is any part of the bill that would hinder a Texans’ ability to claim these damages, then the bill will not budge.” I promise you. After its passage, Leach and supporters of the bill stressed that Texans are still in a position to hold businesses and negligent drivers accountable.

Tabares, a partner lawyer at Cesar Ornelas Law, said she believes the law is in place to protect the companies themselves, not their employees on the road.

“It’s kind of a punch in the stomach that people like teachers, for example, can’t get what they deserve when it comes to being hurt emotionally and physically,” Sauceda said. .

KXAN found a dozen lawsuits filed against Uber, Lyft and Amazon in Travis County for crashes in August. Statewide, over 100 lawsuits filed against the same companies. So far in September, KXAN has found only one lawsuit against Lyft in Travis County and seven lawsuits filed across the state against these three companies for collisions.

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