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Class Action Settlements Serve Lawyers Over Class Members

In many cases, class-action lawsuits enrich some personal injury lawyers at consumers’ expense.

Class action lawsuits were designed to combine legitimate cases, saving the court time and saving expenses for all involved.  But too often, the system has been used by some personal injury lawyers to pocket mega fees – sometimes millions of dollars – representing clients who might not even know they were involved in a suit until they get check for a few dollars or a coupon toward their next purchase.  

No longer an efficient system for justice, class-action lawsuits have become a vehicle for greed.  While Texas lawmakers have enacted class-action reforms, the need for others to follow our state’s lead is clear.

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Legal Consumer Guide

Forum: South Texas commercial vehicle operators, owners under attack

Special to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, April 16, 2021

This opinion reflects the recent trend in aggressive and excessive tactics used to take advantage of Corpus Christi employers. I write on behalf of several small businesses who declined to go public on the issue, knowing that some personal injury lawyers will retaliate against anyone who questions their abuse of the justice system.

Living through a pandemic has made us keenly aware of how important delivery and service vehicles are to our daily lives. From groceries to vaccinations, commercial vehicles have been the integral piece to getting us what we need when we need it most.

Unfortunately, some personal injury lawyers have set their sights on the very businesses that are getting us through this challenging time. And it is not only big 18-wheelers at risk, but also any car or truck with a logo on its door. These local small businesses providing essential services, such as plumbers, electricians, food delivery, waste pick-up, parcel delivery, and A/C repair operators are targets for lawyers searching for another big payoff. Even after our community experienced a historic freeze, leaving many grappling with extensive home repairs, owners and operators of commercial vehicles are dodging frivolous lawsuits as they work tirelessly to serve our neighbors. No matter how minor the accident or who was at fault, these employers are being attacked.

If you wonder why, consider this: Commercial vehicles operating in Texas must carry considerable liability insurance, ranging from $300,000 to $5 million. That means these businesses that employ your family and neighbors are irresistible targets to opportunistic personal injury lawyers. And we’re talking small businesses. Nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers operate 10 or fewer vehicles in Texas today.

A fleet operator in South Texas shared with me how their business has seen aggressive tactics by some personal injury lawyers such as immediately filing for the amount of our insurance or insinuating severe bodily injury occurred even though the damage to the vehicle was minimal and all plaintiffs were fine at the scene of the accident. Providing safe operations, safe drivers, and safe equipment is a priority to this business. If an accident is our fault, they want to pay the appropriate amount to make it right. The problem comes when the payout is above and beyond what is reasonable or supported by the facts of the accident, leading to more and more small businesses unable to obtain the insurance required to operate commercial vehicles.

This is a rapidly growing problem across the state. The number of motor vehicle lawsuits across Texas is increasing, while other types of personal injury lawsuits are declining. From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits soared 118 percent, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. Other types of injury and damage cases dropped seven percent during the same time.

In 2008 in Texas, a lawsuit was filed after one out of 17 vehicle accidents. In 2019, it was about one out of 10 accidents, which is an eye-popping 71 percent increase. The result has been a dramatic increase in insurance rates, and that has already put some commercial vehicle operators out of business.

There’s no question that there may be legitimate insurance claims to be made when accidents occur. But the increasing number of these lawsuits, and the questionable and abusive nature of many, stands to hurt everyone, from the consumer to the business owner.

Between small businesses laden with increased costs of doing business and an increase in consumers’ costs, we are all paying for the problem. It’s time to put a stop to these abusive lawsuits. It’s time for Texas lawmakers to pass House Bill 19 by state Rep. Jeff Leach.

D’Anne Buquet is the executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse.

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.