Legislation has been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate that would make it tougher to file suit against trucking companies involved in accidents, with each side blaming the other.
“We have seen a 118 percent increase in lawsuits filed after vehicle accidents in Texas over the last 10-years. That really doesn’t correlate with increases that we are seeing in the state’s population, with increases in fatalities on the road or in increases in injuries on the road. So this is really a lawyer-driven lawsuit problem,” said Lucy Nashed of the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition. She maintains that businesses of all sizes are seeing their insurance premiums shoot beyond levels they can afford.
The other side is using numbers that point the other way.
“Trucks are killing a lot of people.” said Ware Wendell of Texas Watch. “Over 600 fatalities. That number has doubled since 2009. 105 percent increase in fatalities. And in the same time the population increase in Texas has been 18-percent.”
While the legislation (HB 19, SB 17) are seen as assistance for the trucking industry, Nashed maintains the industry does not want anyone who has been in an accident to lose their chance “to be made whole.” The bills also call for a uniform playing field, bringing all areas in the state under the same laws. Finally, the bill calls for juries to have all available information during trials, she said.
It could be an uphill struggle. Texas leads the nation in large truck crashes, a scene that played out last month during an ice storm when 133 vehicles collided on an icy expressway in Fort Worth. Six were killed. Cell phone video recorded two semis barreling into stopped traffic when the drivers were unable to control the rigs on pavement that had glazed over.
“This November 7, Texas marks 20 years of daily deaths on our roadways with more than 70,000 innocent lives like Alexei’s lost to preventable fatal crashes. Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan, a champion for road safety and TxDOT’s #EndTheStreakTX campaign, believes ending this streak is attainable, but will require every Texan’s commitment.” the Texas Department of Transportation said in a news release.
The ability to hold the companies accountable for such wrecks is what worries Wendell.
“It would severely limit your ability to hold those trucking companies accountable. They made a choice to drive that day when they knew there was an ice storm. They should have been pulled off the road. Many trucking companies did pull off the road that day. But some of the big ones still drove. They didn’t find an alternate route as they were supposed to.” Wendell said.