Forum: South Texas commercial vehicle operators, owners under attack

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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.