HB 19 by House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Chair Jeff Leach (R-Plano) passed the House earlier today, but not before the bill was amended on second reading to make a significant change to the type of evidence that may be admitted in the first phase of a bifurcated trial. As it came out of committee, CSHB 19 would have limited the first phase to the employee defendant’s liability for the accident and compensatory damages. The amendment, offered by Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), allows the plaintiff to introduce evidence in the first phase of a bifurcated trial in regard to a defendant employer who is regulated by the Motor Vehicle Safety Improvement Act of 1999 or Chapter 644, Transportation Code. This evidence is limited to:
- Whether the employee who was operating the employer’s commercial vehicle at the time of the accident was licensed to drive the vehicle, was disqualified from driving the vehicle under federal or state law, should not have been allowed by the employer to operate the vehicle under 49 CFR §382.701(d) or a corresponding state law, was medically certified as physically qualified to operate the vehicle under 49 CFR §391.41 or a corresponding state law, or was operating the vehicle when prohibited to do so under 49 CFR §§382.201, 383.205, 382.207, or 382.215 or a corresponding state law;
- Whether the employer had complied with 49 CFR §382.310 or a corresponding state law in regard to controlled-substance testing of the employee if the employee was impaired at the time of the accident;
- Whether the employer failed to comply with 49 CFR §§382.201, 383.205, 382.207, 382.215, 382.701(d), 390.13, 391.15, 391.21, 391.23(a), 391.25, 391.31, 391.33, 391.41, or 383.51 or a corresponding state law;
- Whether the employer failed to comply with 49 CFR 393.3 or 393.5 or corresponding state law if the employer had knowledge of the failure to comply at the time of the accident.
The evidence above is only admissible to prove ordinary negligent entrustment by the employer to the driver employee and is the only evidence of negligent entrustment that may be presented in the first phase. The bill was further amended to direct the Texas Department of Insurance to perform a biennial study for the next three biennia of the effect of HB 19 for each year on commercial vehicle premiums, deductibles, coverage, and availability of coverage for commercial auto.
HB 19 now heads to the Senate, where Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed the companion (SB 17). SB 17 was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.