The Texas legislature ended its biennial session this week without harming the rights of injured Texans. They even helped them, which is a rarity lately. That’s music to the ears of an injury lawyer.
If you’re wondering what new laws will affect you as you drive and which will hopefully reduce the shocking number of car accidents we have, here’s a quick rundown:
This bill was passed by the legislature but has not been signed by Governor Abbott yet:
Texting while driving:
Finally our state leaders voted to outlaw this dangerous and common practice that has sent our crash rates soaring. But there are loopholes, of course, and it is not guaranteed that our governor will sign the bill. If he does, the new law was weakened to the point that police officers will have an almost impossible job of enforcing it. But hopefully drivers will be afraid of receiving a ticket and will stop texting while driving, so it’s a start to making our highways safer.
Two bills signed by the governor become law on September 1st:
- Mediation of often enormous hospital bills will be expanded. Often after someone is discharged from an emergency room, he or she is billed in full or for the remaining balance due to complexities in the health insurance and medical systems. It is a big victory for Texas consumers whose unpaid bills are often turned over to aggressive collection agents and attorneys to file and collect on lawsuits. More info is here.
2. Telemedicine will be permitted for the first time. It may not be necessary to drive to a doctor to have your pain-relieving medicines refilled or be referred to a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon.
However, weather-related causes of property damage to your car, like hail, snow, and heavy rains, will be tougher to file on your own collision or comprehensive damage under House Bill 1774.
These personal injury bills failed to pass:
- Lowering the speed limit by 5 mph on city streets. This might have helped reduce the staggering number of car accident injuries and deaths in Texas. Just in the past few months, two children have been run over outside their Fort Worth houses and killed by speeding motorists. Of course, there is no way to know if a lower speed limit would have mattered.
- Removing red light cameras from intersections. This is controversial, with some arguing that the cameras force people to stop, and others claiming that it increases the number of rear-end collisions when people do stop or others speed up to avoid being photographed.
- Eliminating vehicle inspections. They are clearly necessary and it is hard to believe that the sponsor claimed they were frivolous.
- Increasing the use of affidavits by insurance company lawyers to prevent injured people from proving their medical bills and records needed at trial to obtain verdicts.
- Increasing the draconian effect of the so-called “paid vs. incurred” statute, Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. For the past 10 years, we have a new system where any bills paid by health insurance or written off must be detailed and explained to the judge and jury, reducing the amount of damages an injured person receives at trial.
- Protecting hospitals from corrupt owners. After a car wreck, you assume that you will be provided high quality medical care at a hospital. This bill would have required people who wanted to run hospitals to have background checks and increased inspections, as well as allow state officials to take over medical facilities that had been drained of funds and neglected patient care. The full Senate and a preliminary House vote had approved this bill. Texas does not require an applicant for a hospital license to provide any information about crimes, bankruptcies, tax liens, or civil fraud judgments.
- Allowing unlicensed carry of firearms. With the increase in road rage, like this terrifying episode in Dallas two weeks where a driver fired his gun at another driver and killed him, it is a good thing this measure died in the House.
- Increasing expedited trials and chancery courts, both of which can hinder the rights of injured persons and plaintiffs to get their damages repaid.