On September 1, 2021, a new law will go into effect in Texas that will upend civil protections for those injured or killed as a result of the negligence of a commercial truck driver. Specifically, the new law is found in the form of supplement to Section 72 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. While the law makes more than substantive change to the law, the main thrust of the new law is unambiguously to limit lawsuits against commercial truck companies by restricting a plaintiff’s ability to admit evidence as to the truck driver’s negligence as a means to impute negligence upon the employer, if the employer stipulates that the driver was:
- An employee of the company at the time of the accident; and
- The employee was within the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident.
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 72.054(a). If an employer makes such a stipulation, a plaintiff may only establish negligence against the employer for the conduct of the driver under respondeat superior. Id. Problematically, the effect of the stipulation also prohibits a plaintiff from “present[ing] evidence on an ordinary negligence claim against the employer defendant that requires a finding by the trier of fact that the employer defendant’s employee was negligent in operating a vehicle as a prerequisite to the employer defendant being found negligent in relation to the employee defendant’s operation of the vehicle.” Id. at § 72.054(b).
This long, imprecise stanza translates to: If a stipulation is made, you are required to establish the employer’s liability under respondeat superior but a plaintiff may not use evidence of the defendant driver’s ordinary negligence to do it. See id. And, by way of the stipulation, a plaintiff cannot argue negligent hiring or negligent entrustment because the plaintiff is bound to claims rooted in respondeat superior, only, barring specific exceptions. See id. at § 72.054(c). Among these exceptions is that a plaintiff may admit evidence as to the driver’s gross negligence to impute gross negligence upon the employer. Id. at § 72.054(c)(3). No doubt, it is frustrating to many that instead of compelling commercial truck companies to change their ways to make the Texas roads safer for their citizens, the Legislature has chosen to sacrifice the safety of Texas citizens for the sake of the finances of commercial truck companies. Now more than ever, it will be crucial to seek out seasoned, knowledgeable counsel to combat the punitive changes in the law.
If you or someone you know has been affected by a commercial vehicle accident, you will need experienced lawyers to help you navigate the ever-changing legal landscape. If your life has been impacted as a result of a commercial vehicle accident, please contact the office of Benny Agosto, Jr. or Ben Agosto III at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner, by letter at 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, or by phone at (713) 222-7211.