Vicarious liability is the legal doctrine that allows victims of commercial auto accidents to file negligence claims against trucking companies and ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft when they have been injured. The claims against the drivers are typically the first line of damage pursuit, but shipping companies and contracted shippers can fail in their reasonable duty of care responsibilities and contribute to accidents. The trucking industry in Texas has dealt with this potential liability for decades, and ridesharing companies have experienced the same damage pursuit. However, Texas law now requires plaintiffs to prove “gross” negligence when proving vicarious third-party liability.
Understanding gross negligence
Proving gross negligence is the standard that has historically been necessary for pursuing punitive damages in a lawsuit. Punitive damages can only be awarded by a jury following a trial in which the plaintiff’s legal counsel successfully demonstrated that the respondent was not only negligent in their reasonable duty of care to the plaintiff but also demonstrated willful excessive negligence. The new Texas law makes this the new standard for any vicarious liability claims for commercial auto accidents. The law is beneficial to the Texas trucking industry and the emerging ridesharing industry.
Implications on claims
The real issue with this law is how it will restrict accident victims from being properly compensated following auto accidents in Texas. Punitive damages could be what actually makes the victim financially whole after a trial and thus be used as leverage in negotiating a settlement deal with insurance providers. The insurance companies can become much more resistant as well as they can sternly offer low-ball settlements or force the case to court.
This law may make it more difficult for auto accident victims to be properly compensated for their injuries. Injured parties will typically only be able to claim damages against the driver’s policy or the employing trucking company carrier insurance policy.