In a startling example of possible political cronyism, Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Allen) is introducing a bill that will protect truck drivers from litigation when they are involved in accidents. Leach’s day job? Protecting truck drivers from litigation when they are involved in accidents.
House Bill 19 is a complicated set of new legal parameters for civil suits involving trucking accidents. Briefly and in part, it makes evidence of a defendant’s failure to comply with standards and regulations inadmissible in court unless that failure is directly related to the incident under litigation.
In addition, previous records of failure to comply with regulations not related to the incident are also inadmissible, and lawyers wanting proof of such failures must submit a court order that cannot explore more than two years of history. This limits plaintiffs’ ability to establish a chain of general negligence, which can sway juries into believing the trucking company has a history of dangerously not following rules.
Leach does not see it that way. On Twitter, he asserted the bill would aid in the fight against frivolous lawsuits.
“Every Texan & every Texas business must be assured that our legal system works,” he said. “We must ensure full access to justice for injured Texans. And we must work to curb abusive, frivolous lawsuits that are killing jobs and shuttering small businesses. #HB19 does both.”
Leach is part of the law firm Gray Reed, which is “often called upon to investigate and defend clients sued in personal injury and wrongful death cases involving vehicle collisions, trucking accidents, professional negligence and equipment failure.” Changes to the way wrongful death and other trucking accident lawsuits are prosecuted will almost certainly benefit his employer in future litigation.
This is an action that could have dire consequences for the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee Chair. He faces potential disbarment if investigated. Rule 1.10 of the Texas State Bar Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that no member can use a publicly held position (such as representative) to directly benefit a client. At the very least, Leach must give notice to the governing body that HB 19 could or would aid current or future cases being defended by Gray Reed.
Leach is scheduled to meet on Monday with the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, a powerful lobby with deep Republican ties, about the bill. A look at campaign contributions for Leach show that the PAC has donated $1,069,431 to the representative’s various campaigns since 2014, with more than $1 million coming in 2020, alone. The lobby is connected to the Judicial Fairness PAC, a conservative lobby that has poured thousands into Texas Supreme Court elections and whose treasurer, Lee Parsley, is general counsel for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. These groups have advocated for tort reforms that often favor large corporations over victims.
The meeting with lobbyists comes after a public backlash to the bill appears to have scuttled an immediate vote next Wednesday, when it’s likely that such a bill might go unnoticed among the flurry of activity surrounding the failure of the Texas power grid. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association will also attend the Monday meeting, and may point out to Leach the legal ramifications of authoring a bill of significant value to his employers.
This bill also has the support of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce and the Keep Texas Trucking coalition.
Naturally, the legislation has already drawn the ire of personal injury lawyers who feel that the law will unfairly protect trucking companies from answering for preventable accidents. One of those is Houston’s Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler, formerly known as The Tough Smart Lawyer, whose television ads often feature him aggressively staring down approaching semis in a game of chicken he always wins.
“Say “NO” to HB 19! Texas has the leading number of big truck wrecks and deaths, making our roads already a very dangerous place,” Adler said on Facebook. “House Bill 19 will absolve trucking companies from independent compliance with state and federal safety regulations. If passed, this legislation will make it harder to punish trucking companies when they violate safety standards and severely injure or kill innocent drivers. Let’s use our voice and protect our roads.”