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Jenkins: Lawsuit abuse is hurting operators of commercial vehicles

Special to the Austin American-Statesman, Mar. 18, 2021 

Groceries to your doorstep. Packages safely delivered. Toilet paper, face masks, holiday gifts, and now, vaccines are all seamlessly transported across the state and around the country. During the pandemic, we have all become keenly aware of the importance of delivery and service vehicles to our daily lives. And, so have personal injury lawyers.  

Searching for another big payoff, some personal injury lawyers have set their sights on commercial or company vehicle owners and operators. And it’s not just big trucks like 18-wheelers that are at risk. It’s any truck or car with a company logo on it, no matter the size or industry, and no matter how minor the accident or who was at fault. If your neighborhood pharmacy makes deliveries in a car with a logo on its door, that business is a potential target of a questionable lawsuit.  So is everyone from rideshare services to restaurant delivery vehicles to plumbers. 

In Texas today, nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers operate 10 or fewer vehicles. And many company cars and trucks on the road these days are operated by small businesses. These entrepreneurs create jobs in hundreds of Texas communities, large and small.  All are targets for opportunistic personal injury lawyers. 

Why? A commercial vehicle operating in Texas must carry substantial liability insurance, ranging from a minimum of $300,000 to a maximum of $5 million. Many have more than the minimum coverage, with layers of insurance reaching into the multimillions of dollars. With insurance and their own assets, these business have resources that are irresistible to some personal injury lawyers.

My business offers pest control and other home-related services in Austin, San Antonio, College Station, Bell County and Corpus Christi. Our technicians drive hundreds of thousands of miles in our company trucks. Our drivers complete safe driving training regularly. Our vehicles are maintained on a set schedule, and we have an excellent safe-driving record across our communities. But, increasingly, the threat of lawsuits impacts our business planning.

Motor vehicle litigation is increasing across Texas, while other types of personal injury lawsuits are decreasing. According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits climbed 118 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019. During the same period, other types of injury and damage cases decreased seven percent.

In 2008, a lawsuit was filed after one out of 17 vehicle accidents in Texas. In 2019, that ratio was about one out of 10 accidents – a 71 percent increase. In some cases, owners and operators of commercial vehicles are being sued even when they are not at fault.  And rules are not being applied uniformly so sometimes important evidence is not allowed to be admitted at trial.

As a result, insurance rates are skyrocketing – and that has already driven some trucking businesses out of business.   

While there may be legitimate insurance claims to be made when accidents occur, the growing number of these lawsuits, and the abusive nature of many, stands to hurt everyone, from the consumer to the business owner. 

The Texas Legislature should act quickly to rein in this abuse by passing reforms that clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and that ensure juries have the facts needed to award fair verdicts. House Bill 19 by state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano is among the key pieces of legislation that will help our courts achieve this needed balance.  Without immediate change, small businesses will continue to be saddled with increased costs of doing business, and we could certainly see more trucking businesses close.  And all of us will pay more for the goods and services we need and depend on. 

It’s time to put a stop to this lawsuit abuse.   

Jenkins is president of ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin. He is a board member of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Leaders Applaud Legislation to Rein in Abusive Lawsuits Plaguing Delivery and Service Trucks and Cars in Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) leaders are applauding legislation aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits plaguing commercial vehicle owners and operators.  The legislation, House Bill 19, is authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach, chairman of the Texas House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

While other types of personal injury lawsuits are decreasing in Texas, motor vehicle litigation is increasing in the state. The number of motor vehicle lawsuits jumped 118 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration.  In contrast, other types of injury and damage cases decreased seven percent during the same period.  The result: Insurance rates are skyrocketing, whether or not a company has even had an accident. That has already driven some trucking companies out of business and could mean higher costs for goods and services for consumers. 

“Any truck or car with a company logo on it is a target for abusive lawsuits,” said Bobby Jenkins, a board member of CALA of Central Texas in Austin.  “No matter the size of the vehicle or industry, and no matter how minor the accident or who was at fault, commercial delivery and service vehicles are susceptible to these questionable lawsuits.  If your neighborhood pharmacy makes deliveries in a car with a logo on its door, that business is a potential target of an abusive lawsuit.  So is everyone from rideshare services to restaurant delivery vehicles to plumbers.”   

Noting the impact to small businesses, Jenkins said nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers in Texas operate 10 or fewer vehicles.   

D’Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area CALA in Corpus Christi, said without immediate reform, many small businesses will continue to be saddled with increased costs of doing business. At the same time, Buquet said, the state could see more trucking businesses shutter their operations in Texas.  “And we all could see higher costs for the goods and services we need and depend on, especially right now during the pandemic,” Buquet said.

“By targeting abusive and frivolous lawsuits that plagued our civil justice system for decades, Texas lawmakers have helped ensure our courts are a place for justice, not greed,” said Amber Pearce, chair of CALA of Central Texas.  “It’s time to turn our attention to reforming the persistent attack on commercial vehicle operators and owners.”

Sergio Contreras, president/CEO of Weslaco-based Rio Grande Valley CALA, said if not reined in, lawsuit abuse against owners and operators of commercial vehicles could land Texas back on the ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list. The annual list from the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) flags areas of the country where lawsuit abuse is rampant, and justice is not evenly applied. Texas has escaped the list in recent years.

“It would be easy to chalk up our past reforms and call it game over on lawsuit abuse in our state, but that’s simply not the case,” Contreras said.  “We hope the Legislature takes up these reforms to rein in trucking lawsuit abuse as quickly as possible.”

For more on Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, visit

The ATRF 2020-2021 Judicial Hellholes report can be found here. Learn more about the history of lawsuit reform in Texas here.

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Contreras: Right to repair vs. frivolous lawsuits

By SERGIO CONTRERAS, Special to the Valley Morning Star:

The Texas Legislature during its 2019 session passed a law requiring school districts and other governmental entities to give architects, engineers and contractors an opportunity to correct work deemed to be defective after a construction project is completed.

The law is known as the Right to Repair act, and by its formal name, H.B. 2826. The law’s purpose was to mandate communication between local governmental entities, architects, engineers and contractors to jointly address areas of concerns and avoid costly litigation. It is unfortunate to report that, in fact, some predatory plaintiff attorneys are working with some area school districts to file lawsuits against contractors, architects, engineers and the many subcontractors who work with them in the construction of campuses across the Rio Grande Valley. In doing so, these attorneys – many of them based outside of the Valley – are working with their clients, the school districts, and local attorneys to evade the 2019 law in claiming that past contracts between the parties allows them to circumvent Right to Repair.

In doing so, they are denying area designer and builders the opportunity to work with school districts to properly address any perceived problems in the post-construction phase of project completion. It is also a dubious legal claim that is being questioned by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, as he has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on the matter. “Lawyers are trying to bootstrap themselves to older contracts, claiming they are grandfathered, and therefore not subject to the new law,” Canales said in a statement. “It’s possible these loopholes are not legal, and therefore, the contracts with the school districts are void as a matter of law.”

As an opinion from the AG is awaited, there is no doubt the impact these frivolous lawsuits are having on area contractors, engineers, architects and subcontractors. The cost of insurance premiums is soaring for Valley industries involved in school construction work, with many insurance companies no longer covering our region. One RGV architectural firm, ERO, reports seeing an increase of 360 percent in premiums in recent years. Deductibles are now upwards of $100,000 per claim in dealing with litigation.

Lawsuits against contractors also touch the many subcontractors they utilize, whom are local residents, local tax-payers, local small business owners that are the backbone of our region. One RGV construction company, D. Wilson of McAllen, wrote a letter to Canales stating that 85 percent of its contract revenue is assigned to local contractors and vendors. Wilson’s president and chief executive officer, Josue Reyes, noted in the letter that its history with just one area school district included 10 projects with over 200 subcontractors involved in the work.

The subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, and welders, your neighbors and friends, and their companies play a crucial role in the RGV economy. Frivolous lawsuits adversely affect their companies and employees just as it does for the general contractors who utilize their services. The continued operations of some local businesses will be in peril if the loophole to the Right to Repair continues unabated and some plaintiff lawyers and area school districts are allowed to go around the law.

The need is urgent in addressing this issue and we commend area legislators for their willingness to see to it that Right to Repair is followed. We urge area school districts to communicate with their contractors under current law and work in a cooperative fashion to make the necessary repairs and contain costs for everyone in keeping our local economy humming with jobs and growth.

Sergio Contreras is President/CEO of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Leaders Laud Governor’s Call to Make Pandemic-related Lawsuit Protections an Emergency Issue for Legislature

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Elected Officials to Respond to COVID-19 Relief – Not Personal Injury Lawyers

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) leaders are applauding Governor Greg Abbott’s designation of coronavirus-related lawsuit protections as an “emergency item” for the current legislative session, paving the way for swift action on a critical element of pandemic relief and recovery for Texas.

“Unless the Legislature takes action, abusive and frivolous lawsuits will present a serious threat to employers and health care providers – and will undermine our state’s economic recovery from this pandemic,” said Amber Pearce, chair of CALA of Central Texas in Austin. “We thank Governor Abbott for his actions, and we urge the Legislature to act as quickly as possible to pass such legislation.”

According to the Texas Civil Justice League, legislation is expected to provide civil liability protections for businesses and health care providers who are following appropriate public health protocols.

“As Texans work to rebuild and recover from the pandemic, the last thing they need to face is an abusive lawsuit,” said D’Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area CALA in Corpus Christi. “Small businesses struggling to keep their doors open shouldn’t have to operate in fear of predatory personal injury lawyers and frivolous lawsuits.”

The grassroots, small business and citizen-led lawsuit reform movement – including Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse organizations across the state – include COVID-19 lawsuit protections and reforms to rein in abusive and costly commercial trucking lawsuits as top priorities during this year’s Legislature.

The groups point to recent polling by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) that finds overwhelming bipartisan support for government aid to small businesses and agreement that lawsuits are not the solution to COVID-19 relief.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the ATRA survey say those harmed by the pandemic should get assistance from policies passed by elected officials, versus just 7 percent who say they should get payouts from lawsuits. Additional findings from the survey show a majority of voters polled agree law firms using PPP funds for lawsuit advertising is inappropriate, and 65 percent of respondents said personal injury lawyer advertisements are annoying and take advantage of people.

“Americans are tired of some personal injury lawyers lining their pockets at the expense of small businesses,” said Sergio Contreras, president/CEO of Rio Grande Valley CALA, based in Weslaco.

Despite the lack of public support for lawsuits related to COVID-19, personal injury lawyers’ advertisements have increased nationwide.

“The threat of lawsuits makes it more difficult to weather the pandemic, and it’s frustrating to see some personal injury lawyers receiving government relief loans to in turn use them for lawsuit advertising,” Contreras said. “We applaud Governor Abbott on his work to protect employers and health care providers from frivolous lawsuits and to keep Texas open for business.”

For more on Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, visit

To read more on the survey released by ATRA regarding COVID-19 related litigation visit