Rep. Jeff Leach

Sweeping reform of commercial vehicle litigation was filed earlier today by House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee Chair Jeff Leach (R-Plano). HB 19 does the following:

  • Gives the defendant in an action involving a commercial vehicle the right to a bifurcated trial; defendant must move for bifurcation prior to voir dire or at a time specified by a pretrial court order under Rule 166;
  • In the first phase of the trial, the trier of fact shall determine liability and compensatory damages; in the second phase, exemplary damages if the trier of fact found the defendant liable for compensatory damages on a claim that supports exemplary damages;
  • Provides that if the trier of fact finds in the first phase that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages under respondeat superior for the employee’s negligence, that finding can support exemplary damages in a direct action against the defendant for the employee’s negligence;
  • Provides that a defendant’s failure to comply with a standard or regulation is inadmissible and will not support a judgment for liability and damages unless: (1) the standard or regulation governs a specific aspect of the defendant’s or defendant’s employee’s conduct or omission that is the subject of the action, or a specific aspect of the use or condition of the defendant’s property or equipment that is the subject of the action; and (2) a reasonable jury could find that failure to comply was proximate cause of the claimant’s injury;
  • If the defendant’s failure to comply is admissible, than other instances of non-compliance within a two-year period preceding the date of the accident are also admissible;
  • Requires the claimant to obtain a trial court order for discovery of a defendant’s failure to comply with a standard of regulation (absent agreement of the parties), which order must be limited to a reasonable period of time not to exceed two years preceding the date of the accident and require the least burdensome method available to obtain the evidence;
  • Makes a discovery order reviewable in an original proceeding for an abuse of discretion in which the inadequacy of a remedy at law shall be presumed;
  • Limits the reviewing court to the evidence submitted by the parties to the trial court;
  • Provides that a defendant’s liability for damages for an employee’s negligence shall be based on respondeat superior and not on a direct action against the defendant if the defendant stipulates that the employee was employed at the time of the accident and that the employee was acting in the scope of employment;
  • Provides that exemplary damages may only be awarded against the defendant for an employee’s conduct if: (1) the employee’s negligence is found to have contributed to the injury; (2) more than nominal damages are awarded to the claimant for the employee’s conduct; and (3) the defendant is found to have been grossly negligent for its conduct or omissions;
  • Limits pretrial discovery of the defendant’s gross negligence to two years preceding the date of the accident;
  • Requires the trial court to rule on a motion for summary judgment addressed to the defendant’s gross negligence or a motion to dismiss the direct action against the defendant based on respondeat superior prior to calling for trial;
  • Requires periodic payment of future damages of an award of at least $100,000, if a party requests it;
  • Requires the court to make specific findings of the dollar amount and recipient of each periodic payment and the date on which each payment will be made;
  • Requires the judgment to provide that periodic payments will be funded by an annuity contract, an obligation of the United States, a commercial liability policy, or any other satisfactory form of payment proposed by the defendant;
  • Provides that except for damages awarded for future loss of earnings, periodic payments terminate upon the death of the recipient;
  • Bars the court from excluding a photograph of video taken at or near the time of the accident that is an accurate depiction of the vehicle or object being depicted, and standing alone or viewed with another photograph may provide evidence of the cause of the accident, the events occurring before, during, or after the accident that are related to the accident, and the extent of damage caused to the vehicle or object involved in the accident;
  • Provides that the fact that a photograph or video tending to support or refute an allegation regarding the severity of the injury to a person or object is not a basis for excluding admission of the photograph or video.

HB 19 by Leach (R-Plano)

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