What House Bill 19 could mean for Texas drivers

KPRC 2's Bill Spencer takes a closer look at a proposed law that would change how trucking companies can be sued.

HOUSTON – Lawmakers are meeting in Austin to debate hundreds of bills, many that could have a real impact on your life.

One bill that is being discussed involves commercial vehicles, including 18-wheelers. Texas has some of the most dangerous roads. So, what would this bill mean for drivers? Here’s what KPRC 2 Investigates found out.

‘They destroyed my life’

“This crash, this driver, this truck. They destroyed my life,” said Martin Mata.

On April 3, 2018, Martin Mata of Katy was nearly killed after being involved in an accident with an 80,000 pound, 18-wheeler that crushed his car and dragged Martin and the vehicle more than 700 feet down Interstate 45 in Houston. For more than two months, Martin lay in a coma with multiple broken bones, a punctured bladder, kidney damage, spleen damage, liver damage, and a punctured lung.

“I spent two months and 10 days in the ICU room okay. That’s when I receive 22 different surgeries,” Mata explains. “And I was really afraid. I wasn’t sure if I was going to recover.”

In Martin Mata’s case, the trucking company has been cited multiple times in the past for things like no ABS, no brake lights, no automatic brake adjusters, and poor brake maintenance.

House Bill 19

Now, almost three years later, Martin is still recovering and fighting new proposed legislation in Austin. Martin believes House Bill 19 greatly reduces the average driver’s right to use big truck companies for damage. The bill actually involves all commercial vehicle companies. (Read more about HB 19 here. You can read the companion Senate bill 17 here.)

“This House Bill 19, this is pretty sad,” said Mata. “The truck companies they should be held accountable when they don’t maintain their trucks.”

Already Texas leads the nation as the number one worst state in the country for large truck crashes from 2016 to 2020. The Texas Department of Transportation keeps a tally of our deadly roadways and you’ve probably seen the warning signs flashing around town.

From 2009 to 2019, the number of deaths involving big rigs in Texas jumped 105% from 318 to 652 - according to TxDot.

“The trucking legislation will only make our roads more dangerous in Texas,” said Ware Wendell, Executive Director for Texas Watch.

Ware Wendell is with Texas Watch, a non-profit consumer safety group. Wendell explains they believe House Bill 19 is bad for all of us who share the road with big rigs and commercial vehicles.

“It takes the focus away from the trucking companies’ misconduct and their wrongdoing and safety violations. It focuses instead on just the truck drivers’ conduct in the seconds leading up to the crash,” said Wendell.

Bill is still being debated, changes coming

“Texas has seen an astronomical increase in the number of lawsuits filed after vehicle accidents. 118% over the last 10 years,” explains Lucy Nashed, Keep Texas Trucking.

Lucy Nashed is with the Keep Texas Trucking Coalition and says the bill doesn’t favor average drivers or commercial truck companies. She said the main goal of the bill is to reduce “no merit” lawsuits.

“We want to make sure there is an even playing field anytime someone is injured in an accident,” explains Nashed.

We asked Nashed about the bill limiting drivers from looking back more than two years at what the trucking company has done with the truck if involved in an accident. She explains that the idea is just wrong.

“That’s not the bill that is moving forward. There’s going to be a substitute bill that’s introduced, that has no time limitations on the time you look back,” she explains.

Nashed says there will be changes to the bill in the days ahead before it moves forward.

As for Mata, he says his days ahead are changed forever. No more tennis, no more skiing with the family, and walking with a cane for the rest of his life.

“We used to be a pretty happy family,” Mata says. “It’s not easy you know.”

Have an opinion about proposed bills?

You can write to lawmakers in Austin and let them know what you think about this bill and any other that is being debated. The Texas Legislature Online has a database where you can search who represents you and how to contact them. Just check the committee pages of the Senate and House of Representatives. It’s easy to navigate and use.

KPRC 2 Investigates will follow the developments and potential changes for House Bill 19 and let you know what happens.

About the Authors:

Emmy-winning investigative reporter, insanely competitive tennis player, skier, weightlifter, crazy rock & roll drummer (John Bonham is my hero). Husband to Veronica and loving cat father to Bella and Meemo.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.