This article answers two questions about an accident when driving without a license and applies to all vehicles including cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
Q. Am I at fault for causing an accident if I was driving without a motorcycle license?
A. No. The lack of a license didn’t cause the accident, even if you got a ticket for driving without a license.
Q. If I didn’t have a license, can I still have a personal injury case and get money for my injury?
A. Yes. Because not having a license has nothing to do with who is at fault for causing the accident.
Motorcyclist Thought He Didn’t Have a Case Because He Didn’t Have a License
I received a call from a motorcyclist who was hurt when a car hit his motorcycle and he was calling to find out if he could make a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
He didn’t think of calling a motorcycle lawyer at the time of the accident because he was riding or driving without a motorcycle operator’s license. Because he was driving the motorcycle illegally and was even issued a ticket for driving without a license, he thought that prevented him from suing for his injury and that’s why he didn’t call a lawyer earlier. But someone told him to call a lawyer and find out.
I asked him if he had a valid motorcycle license at the time of the accident would that have prevented the accident?
His motorcycle was stopped at a red light when it was hit in the rear by the car. His injuries were 100% caused by the other driver’s negligence. Not having a valid license had nothing to do with who caused the accident and the motorcyclist is therefore entitled to be compensated for his injuries.
Reasons Why Would a Driver Not Have a License
Five reasons why someone could be driving a motorcycle or car without a motorcycle license or driver’s license:
- The driver had a valid that was left at home
- The driver’s license was suspended
- The driver’s license was revoked
- The driver failed to renew the license, or
- The driver never obtained a license
But the lack of a license didn’t cause the accident. Even if the driver or motorcycle operator never obtained a license, it has nothing to do with fault for causing the accident.
The Arguments Why a Driver Without a License Is at Fault for Causing the Accident
There are only two reasons to believe someone is at fault for causing an accident when driving without a license and those reasons are flawed.
First, some people think that if the motorcycle operator or car driver obeyed had the law by not driving without a license, he/she would not be in that place at that time and the accident would never have happened. I have even heard this argument from other personal injury lawyers!
But that argument is ridiculous. The lack of a driver’s license is not what caused the accident (see the New York State case law below).
The second is that a license means the driver or motorcycle rider has the experience necessary to operate safely. But that makes two incorrect assumptions.
A license doesn’t even prove someone is experienced or not. Someone could have been riding motorcycles or cars for 20 years since age 8 and be highly experienced but for some reason never got a license.
Another person can get a license after some very basic training and have almost no experience.
The only question to answer is which driver was negligent. The negligent driver is at fault for causing the accident.
When Can Not Having a License Affect Your Case?
If a motorcyclist did not have a motorcycle license, it would only become a problem if he or she lied about having a license.
If the motorcyclist testifies at a deposition or in court that he or she had a motorcycle license when it was only a learner’s permit or there was no license at all, evidence from the DMV can be submitted for the purpose of showing that the motorcyclist did not have a license and lied.
The jury could then consider whether the motorcyclist is a liar and whether the other testimony should be believed.
If You Didn’t Have a Driver’s License or Motorcycle License You Can Have a Personal Injury Case
If at the time of the accident, the injured operator of a motorcycle never had a license or previously had a motorcycle license that was expired, suspended, or revoked, the motorcyclist IS entitled to compensation for injuries.
If you did not have a motorcycle license, you can sue someone else for causing your injuries. If you were driving, had an accident, and did not have a driver’s license, it does not mean that you caused the accident.
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.
Examples Showing Why Not Having a Driver’s License Has Nothing to Do With Who Caused the Accident
You are driving a motorcycle without a license and while stopped at a red light, you are hit in the rear by a car. If you had a driver’s license, would the car have stopped in time and the accident have been avoided? Of course not. The accident wasn’t caused because you didn’t have a motorcycle license.
You are riding a motorcycle without a license going through an intersection when you have a green light. A car runs through the red light hitting your motorcycle and injuring you. If you had a driver’s license, would the accident have been avoided and you not have been hit? Of course not. The accident wasn’t caused because you didn’t have a motorcycle license.
A license cannot cause or prevent an accident.
What the New York State Courts Say About Who’s at Fault When Driving Without a License
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 a license did not bar recovery and that evidence regarding the motorcyclist’s lack of license, registration, and insurance could be excluded. That means the failure to have a license could be used against that motorcyclist or you.
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 the 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 the New York motorcycle accident lawyers
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Motorcycle Attorney Phil Franckel talks about how motorcycle accidents are different
Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is the author of all articles and content on this website, one of the Personal Injury Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York, well-known for representing motorcyclists. He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and is a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Franckel created the motorcycle awareness campaign BE AWARE MOTORCYCLES ARE EVERYWHERE®.
Founding Partner Rob Plevy, Esq.
Robert Plevy, Esq. is a motorcycle accident lawyer and one of the Personal Injury Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York. Robert began his legal career in 1993 as an Assistant Corporation Counsel defending The City of New York against personal injury lawsuits.