By: Amy Agnew
During the 87th Texas Legislative Session, the Legislature passed House Bill 19, which relates to civil liability of a commercial motor vehicle owner or operator and proposes to add Subchapter B to Chapter 72 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Instead of a trial asserting claims against a commercial motor vehicle company and its commercial driver during the same trial, this legislation allows for a bifurcated trial on a motion by a defendant. As of the writing of this Article, the bill was sent to the Governor and awaiting the Governor’s action.
House Bill 19 passed the Texas House of Representatives on April 30, 2021 and passed the Texas Senate on May 19, 2021. Under the new law, if the defendant’s motion is granted, claims against a commercial driver proceed first. Only if a trier of fact finds against an employee driver, can a claimant then pursue his or her claim against the commercial motor vehicle company during the second phase of the trial.
In the first portion of the trial, the trier of fact will determine liability and the amount of compensatory damages; exemplary damages can be awarded only in the second phase of the bifurcated trial. Also, in the first phase of the trial, if the trier of fact finds that an employee defendant was negligent in operating an employer defendant’s commercial motor vehicle, it may serve as a basis for the claimant to proceed on the second phase of the trial on a claim directly against an employer defendant. For instance, a claim of negligent entrustment against the employer defendant can be asserted during the second phase.
A similar bifurcation of trial can be asserted under this proposed Subchapter of Chapter 72 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code for a claim of failure to comply with regulations or standards (i.e., a statute, regulation, rule, or order regulating equipment or conduct adopted or promulgated by federal, state, or local governments or a governmental agency). Under this section, during the first phase of trial, evidence of a defendant’s failure to comply with a regulation or standard is admissible only if, in addition to complying with other requirements of law: (1) the evidence tends to prove that failure to comply with the regulation or standard was a proximate cause of the bodily injury or death for which damages are sought; and (2) the regulation or standard is specific and governs, or is an element of a duty of care applicable to, the defendant, the defendant’s employee, or the defendant’s property or equipment when any of those is at issue in the action.
Generally speaking, this legislation could result in limiting the liability of commercial motor vehicle companies who subjects of litigation.