AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The state of Texas leads the nation in highway truck wrecks, according to federal stats. Now, proposed legislation could make it harder for victims of these crashes to seek legal action against commercial companies involved.
House Bill 19 essentially shields big trucking companies in the event of a wreck. Proponents of the bill say it's necessary to stop frivolous lawsuits, but those who oppose it say it will make Texas roads even deadlier.
"It was the most catastrophic event of my life. We have three wonderful children, eight grandkids. It was devastating," Josh Huffman said.
Huffman, of Fort Worth, lost his wife, Janice, of 40 years when a reckless truck driver slammed into her in 2016 while she sat in traffic on Interstate-30 in Hunt County.
"She was plowed into the back of her SUV by a truck going 70 miles per hour and the trucker's own admission he never hit his brakes," Huffman said.
These kinds of stories, unfortunately, are plentiful in the state of Texas.
HB 19, which is making its way through the Texas Legislature, would make it harder for victims and their families to go after commercial trucking companies in the event of serious injury or death following a wreck.
The bill would force victims to first seek action against the drivers and not the company. There would also be restrictions on how much of a company's safety record could be accessed and scrutinized for legal purposes.
Victim advocates say it gives those hurt and grieving families little recourse.
"We are concerned that this bill will help the worst actors out there. It's going to hurt the best actors and it's going to kill a lot of us on the roads in the process," Ware Wendell, executive director of Texas Watch, said.
But those in favor of HB 19 argue the opposite. They claim frivolous lawsuits against trucking and commercial fleet companies have cost the industry billions of dollars -- costs that have put smaller companies out of business and, ultimately, increased prices for consumers.
"It is about transparency about the fraud that is going on with a handful of attorneys across the state that are misleading and misguiding their clients to inflate these costs, and the business community, we are sick of it, and it's something that cannot be sustained," John Esparza, president of Texas Trucking Association, said.
Data from the Texas Department of Transportation showed that back in 2019 more than 39,000 commercial vehicle crashes were recorded on their books
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