AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jay Rosenberg will never forget the call.
In Oct. 2018, Rosenberg’s wife and daughter, Leslie and Sophie, were on their way from Westlake to College Station, where Sophie was a sophomore at Texas A&M University.
When a tanker truck pulled out across all lanes of the highway, in the darkness of night, Leslie and Sophie were pinned beneath the trailer.
They died instantly.
“I was just in total denial,” Rosenberg said. “Leslie and Sophie were so full of life and the tragedy was just so senseless.”
Rosenberg pursued litigation against the trucking company, but can’t discuss the details. His petition to require lighting on tractor-trailers and tanker trucks has nearly 10,000 signatures.
Now, he’s worried about a new effort by the trucking industry to overhaul injury liability in Texas.
Texas House Bill 19
Texas’ trucking industry is pushing an overhaul to the state’s accident liability law that could change who faces penalties when a commercial vehicle driver injures or kills another driver on the road.
Texas House Bill 19 addresses what industry representatives called an unsustainable lawsuit environment for trucking companies.
“The commercial vehicle industry continues to be under attack,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association. “We’re seeing dramatic increases in large verdicts.”
Critics claim the proposed legislation will create a free pass for trucking companies. If passed, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate “grossly negligent” behavior to sue a company whose employee caused injury or death. Otherwise, only the company’s employee would be liable for their actions.
The group “Keep Texas Safe” is running a TV campaign against House Bill 19 on KXAN and other stations in Austin.
Thomas J. Henry, a personal injury attorney, contacted KXAN wanting to share his thoughts on the bill.
“What they’re doing is they’re taking the largest corporations and they’re trying to give them a free pass, a free break and they’re going to try to pass that along to the consumers,” Henry said in an interview.
The bill received its first hearing before the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence on Tuesday which is chaired by the bill’s author, Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano.
Leach acknowledged that the introduced version of the bill has “fairly significant” flaws and promised that changes will be made. He did not allow members of the committee to debate those changes during the first hearing, which included public comment.
Leach said the bill protects businesses from frivolous lawsuits and ensures that injured Texans can still pursue damages through litigation.
“If there’s any part of the bill that would hinder a Texans’ ability to seek those damages, then the bill won’t move,” Leach said. “I promise you that.”
Bobby Jenkins, owner of ABC Home and Commercial Services, and a Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Central Texas board member has 700 trucks in his fleet.
He said lawsuits have caused liability insurance for his company to increase by 20% and umbrella coverage to increase by 200-300%.
“For me, it is a big deal,” Jenkins told KXAN. “It’s really, in my opinion, gotten out of hand and it’s made it very, very tough for a company like mine to obtain liability insurance on my vehicles.”
Leach said his goal is to move House Bill 19 out of committee sometime next week.
Note: Thomas J. Henry and ABC Home and Commercial Services are advertisers with KXAN.