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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.

Don’t Let a Lawyer Be Your Doctor

As more Texans rely on the Internet and television for health information, it’s important to distinguish between helpful resources and misleading lawsuit advertising. Many ads attempt to shape consumers’ decisions, steering them away from doctors and toward questionable lawsuits.

Two pieces of legislation (Senate Bill 1189 and House Bill 2251) have been introduced in Texas that would protect patients by requiring advertisements to properly warn patients that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication before consulting with a physician. The legislation would not limit or ban drug-injury advertisements.  It simply would protect vulnerable populations by ensuring they have the information necessary to make the best decisions for their health regarding prescription drug use.

Dr. Christine Canterbury, MD, said of these legislative proposals:  “Patient safety depends on truth in advertising when talking about treatment regimens. When advertisements cause patients to doubt the recommendations of their physicians and discontinue use of their prescribed medications, the consequences can be very serious.”

Consumers with questions about their medical care and health should ask their doctor, not a personal injury lawyer. Additionally, patients should be wary of any attempt by a personal injury lawyer to steer them to a specific doctor.  The bottom line: Don’t Let a Lawyer Be Your Doctor!

From Asbestos to Opioids

From asbestos to opioids, trial lawyers are setting their sights on big payouts:

An East Texas county is suing a slew of prescription painkiller manufacturers and distributers in federal court, accusing them of fueling an opioid addiction epidemic that has gripped communities across the nation — in part by allegedly inflating the drugs’ benefits in treating chronic pain and downplaying the addiction risks.

Learn more about the lawsuit in Texas Tribune’s article, “East Texas county sues drug companies, alleges role in opioid crisis.

TALA Urges Support for Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                          CONTACT: Jennifer Harris
Sept. 17, 2015                                                                                     (512) 773-7168

Legislation by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21) would implement meaningful lawsuit reforms at federal level

AUSTIN –Today, Congress is expected to debate and vote on H.R. 758, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA) by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21).

Ahead of the vote, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) is urging voters to contact their Member of Congress to support LARA.

LARA would implement common sense lawsuit reforms at the federal level that have proven successful in state legislatures across the country, including in Texas. H.R. 758 would:

• Impose mandatory sanctions on trial lawyers who file abusive lawsuits in federal courts.
• Ensure that sanctions imposed on trial lawyers are monetary and include attorney’s fees and other costs that a victim of an abusive lawsuit incurs.
• Restore fairness and integrity to the federal court system.

“LARA takes a meaningful, successful model of reform from states across our country, including Texas, and brings that same consistency and clarity to our nation’s courts,” said TALA spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. “We applaud Rep. Smith for his work to bring the Texas model of lawsuit reform to the Capitol.”

LARA was passed by the House of Representatives in 2013 but failed in the United States Senate. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is co-sponsoring LARA companion legislation in the Senate.

TALA works with Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups throughout the state. Launched in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in 1990, the CALA movement has spread across the country. In the Lone Star State alone, more than 25,000 Texans support CALA chapters in East Texas, Houston, Central Texas, Corpus Christi, and the Rio Grande Valley.

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