HB 19 by Chairman Leach was voted out of committee earlier this afternoon by a 5-4 vote. Chairman Leach laid out a committee substitute , which contains the provisions detailed below. The Senate companion, SB 17 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), has been referred to Senate Transportation. The substitute bill 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 not later than the 120th day after the defendant’s original answer;
- 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 a finding in the first phase that the defendant driver was negligent in operating the vehicle may serve as the basis in the second phase on a claim against the employer defendant that requires a predicate finding of the driver’s negligence;
- Provides that a defendant’s failure to comply with a standard or regulation may support a judgment for compensatory damages only if: (1) a reasonable person could find that the failure to comply was a proximate cause of the claimant’s injuries; (2) the standard or regulation governs a specific aspect of, or is an element of a duty of care applicable to, the defendant, the defendant’s employee, or the defendant’s property or equipment when any of those is an issue in the action;
- Provides that if the action involves a bifurcated trial, a claimant may not introduce evidence of a failure to comply unless it meets the above criteria;
- Clarifies that the bill does not preclude a claimant from pursuing punitive damages based on a failure to comply with another safety standard or regulation, or from presenting evidence on such a claim in the second phase of a bifurcated trial;
- 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 the claimant may not in the first phase of a bifurcated trial present evidence of the ordinary negligence of the defendant’s employer who stipulates as provided above on any claim against the employer that requires a finding that the employee was negligence as a predicate to finding the employer negligent in relation to the employee’s operation of the vehicle;
- Clarifies that the bill does not preclude the claimant from: (1) bringing a negligence action against the employer for failing to maintain the vehicle involved in the accident; (2) bringing a negligence claim against the employer that does not require a predicate finding of the employee’s negligence, or from presenting evidence supporting the claim in the first phase; or (3) or a claim for punitive damages arising from the employer’s conduct in relation to the accident, or from presenting evidence on that claim in the second phase;
- Bars the court from requiring expert testimony to support the introduction into evidence of a photograph or video of the vehicle or an object involved in the accident;
- Provides that if a photo or video is properly authenticated it is presumed admissible, even if it supports or refute an assertion about the severity of the damages or injury to an object or person involved in the accident.
HB 19 is of immense importance to all Texas businesses and consumers who rely on affordable and available commercial shipping services. We urge you to contact your Senators and House members to support this legislation.