In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about the fact that lack of a driver’s license has nothing to do with negligence. If you were driving, had an accident and did not have a driver’s license, it does not mean that you caused the accident. If you did not have a driver’s license, you can sue someone else for causing your injuries.
Likewise, if the person who caused your injuries did not have a driver’s license, the lack of a driver’s license does not mean that person was negligent or is responsible for your injuries.
To explain this, I usually use an example where you are driving a motorcycle without a license and a while stopped at a red light, you are hit in the rear by a car. If you had a driver’s license, would the accident have been avoided? Was the accident caused because you didn’t have a motorcycle license? Of course not.
In Firmes v. Chase Manhattan Automotive Finance Corp., a New York (second department) decision, the court held that the motorcyclist’s operating a motorcycle without license did not bar recovery and that evidence regarding the motorcyclist’s lack of license, registration, and insurance could be excluded.
In another recent New York Appellate Division (fourth department) decision in Huff v Rodriguez also known as Huff III, the court stated “It is well settled that the absence or possession of a driver’s license relates only to the authority for operating a vehicle, and not to its manner of operation.” “Thus, the absence or possession of a driver’s license is not relevant to the issue of negligence.” (emphasis added)
However, the Appellate Division stated that the fact that a person does not possess a driver’s license may be relevant with respect to the issue of that person’s credibility if the person lies about having a license. In other words, whether that person can be believed with respect to other aspects of his or her testimony if he or she lied about having a license.
In Huff III, the plaintiff’s lawyer asked the defendant whether she had a New York State driver’s license on the date of the accident. When she replied that she did, the plaintiff’s lawyer confronted her with an abstract from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which indicated that on the date of the accident she held a learner’s permit, not a license.
The jury was able to review evidence that she did not have a driver’s license at the time of the accident and could use the evidence to decide whether this was a significant lie causing them to disbelieve the rest of her testimony, whether it was an unimportant lie, or just an error.
The Appellate Division stated that the lower trial court properly allowed the DMV abstract to be admitted into evidence because the court instructed the jury that evidence concerning defendant’s lack of a driver’s license had nothing to do with the accident or negligence. Among other things, the trial court said “. . . In other words, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you can be unlicensed and the operation of your vehicle has nothing to do with negligence.”
If you have been hurt in a motorcycle accident in which you were operating the motorcycle without a valid license, please call New York motorcycle accident attorney Phil Franckel for a free consultation at