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L Todd Kelly - Carlson Law Firm Partner in North Austin, TX
L. Todd Kelly is The Carlson Law Firm’s Partner in our North Austin, Texas location.

I wrote about the devastation that House Bill 4 was going to do if we didn’t stop it in 2002. It became law in 2003 and has deprived countless medical malpractice victims of justice since. Many never got a day in court at all because of the bill. Many others had their lifetime damages capped because of the law which was intended to improve medical care in Texas.

Many doctors did come to Texas: doctors who could not practice in other jurisdictions because their standards of care were so low that they were hurting and killing people. So, they came here.

That is now history.

No one listened. The injured sit in my office in absolute disbelief and disgust at what happened right under their noses because they didn’t understand – or didn’t care: until it happened to them. 

It is happening AGAIN! House Bill 19 was written, in part, by the trucking industry – the very industry that it will protect from responsibility when their own neglect harms Texans. The bill does several things that most should find abhorrent in our society. Among the bad things it does, here are a few:

First, HB 19 shields trucking companies from being liable for their own neglect if they simply admit that their driver was negligent and was in the course and scope of his employment.

Why should that matter, you ask:

  1.   Once they do that, the law goes on to prevent evidence of the company’s wrongdoing except in the most egregious cases (and limits it severely, even there);
  2.   The negligence of one, isolated, driver doesn’t look as bad to a jury as an entire fleet operating that way (and the law prohibits us from talking about the bad training, and lack of discipline in the company). 

Second, it requires that in order for a trucking company to ever be held liable directly for the harm that it causes, we have to prove that they were grossly negligent. This must be proven by a unanimous verdict finding by clear and convincing evidence that the company knew that its actions were likely to cause death or serious injury and proceeded with actual knowledge of the risk. This is the highest standard in the civil justice system.

What’s more, the law goes on to limit access to the very evidence necessary to prove these cases, making them virtually impossible in most cases.

Third, even when a plaintiff is somehow able to overcome these incredible obstacles to justice, the law requires periodic payments. The jury is told to reduce the value of a case to its present value, as they are asked to award a sum of money that “if paid now in cash” would compensate the injured person for all damages found. That reduction to present value is reduced even further when it must be paid out in future installments.

The at-fault company gets to control how those installments are paid.

Fourth, since punitive damages are likely to be awarded in the rare case that actually gets to this point, the drafters created a means of getting the money back to the wrongdoer.

If the injured person dies during the pay-out period, the money awarded against the trucking company for risking the lives of all of us on the roadways reverts back to the company!

Not only does the punitive award revert back, but any money awarded for physical pain or mental anguish will as well.  The very purpose of punitive damages (to thwart reckless conduct) will be averted. 

This bill was drafted by trucking companies for trucking companies. It should never have reached this level, and it puts Texan lives at risk.

Call your state representatives NOW and urge that this bill not pass! Or visit Texas Watch and say no to HB19.


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