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The Other Driver in My Accident was Unlicensed: Does That Mean They Are At-Fault?

Posted in Car Accidents on March 4, 2022

Unlicensed drivers cause nearly 1 in 5 deadly crashes, yet accident victims struggle to get compensation from them. When insurance denies their claims, what options do victims have?

Comparing Key Points

Licensed Driver Unlicensed Driver
Valid insurance? Usually yes Maybe, can be denied
Automatically at-fault? No No
Recovering damages File a claim through their insurance Potentially difficult, may require legal action

Can I File an Insurance Claim Against an At-Fault Unlicensed Driver?

The answer is complex. While driving unlicensed is illegal, it does not necessarily determine fault after an accident. However, even if the unlicensed driver is at-fault, recovering damages can be challenging since insurance claims against them are often denied. Victims may have to take personal legal action or use their own insurance to get compensation.

Unlicensed drivers can pose a danger on the road. If an unlicensed driver is involved in a car accident, the aftermath can become complex. 

While each issue is a separate matter and unrelated to the other, they have heavy implications for recovering damages for property and person. 

Are Unlicensed Drivers a Problem in Louisiana? 

Louisiana is known for many things, including Mardi Gras, jazz, Creole and Cajun culture. Unfortunately, Louisiana is also known as one of the deadliest states for motorists. Recently, Louisiana was ranked third in the nation for traffic fatalities. 

Unlicensed drivers play a significant role in fatal crashes nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • Unlicensed drivers or motorists with invalid licenses were involved in 19% of traffic accident fatalities
  • Motorcycle riders were the most likely to be unlicensed or had invalid licenses 
  • 21- to 34-year-olds Accounted for the most invalid or unlicensed drivers

While Louisiana does not have statistics specifically for unlicensed drivers, it can be implied using the above information that unlicensed drivers are linked to at least 19% of fatal accidents.

Do Unlicensed Drivers Pose a Unique Threat on the Road?

Unlicensed motorists present a distinct danger to other drivers. The demographics of unlicensed drivers are comprised of more than just inexperienced teenagers out mud bogging in dad’s pickup truck.

  • Unlicensed motorists and drivers with invalid licenses are mostly comprised of:
    • Motorists who lost their license because of a DUI conviction
    • Those who failed to maintain adequate car insurance
    • Elderly individuals who were unable to pass their renewal exam usually due to visual or mental impairments
    • Individuals who are unable to obtain a license or have had it revoked because of a medical condition, including vision impairment and seizures
    • Immigrants who have not yet passed the drivers exam
    • Individuals convicted of criminal offenses that suspend a driver’s license indefinitely
    • Motorists who have had their license suspended for driving infractions that accumulated too many points

Drivers are unlicensed for a reason. The unique threat that they pose is often due to a complete disregard for safety laws, including:

  • Drunk driving or driving under the influence of a controlled substance or illegal drug
  • Failed to keep sufficient auto insurance
  • May have hurt or killed somebody in a motor vehicle accident
  • Suffer from impairments that prevent them from driving safely
  • Repeat offenders of traffic violations
  • Those who have never received proper driver’s education

Unlicensed drivers are more than irresponsible. In most cases, they are a direct threat to anyone else sharing the road in Louisiana.

“One in five traffic collisions involved an unlicensed driver”

“Approximately 50% of unlicensed drivers involved in fatal accidents had alcohol in their system”

“An estimated 50% of hit and run accidents are attributed to unlicensed drivers”

 According to the AAA study, Unlicensed to Kill:

  • One in five traffic collisions involved an unlicensed driver
  • Approximately 50% of unlicensed drivers involved in fatal accidents had alcohol in their system
  • An estimated 50% of hit and run accidents are attributed to unlicensed drivers
  • 6.7% of unlicensed drivers had their license suspended
  • 1.1% of motorists were driving with an expired license
  • 5% had never obtained a valid driver’s license

AAA’s report collected data from 2007-2009.

Can I File a Claim Against an Unlicensed Driver?

Driving unlicensed and car accident liability are two separate issues. While driving unlicensed is illegal and subject to penalties, traffic accident liability depends on negligence.

Louisiana is an at-fault or tort state, meaning that a driver can recover damages from the at-fault driver. However, it should be noted that driving without a license does not automatically make a motorist liable for a car crash.

Fault in traffic accidents is determined by the negligence of a driver. For example, if a driver with a valid license runs a red light and hits an uninsured motorist, the licensed driver is at fault. The unlicensed driver can legally pursue a claim against the negligent motorist.

In some cases, valid insurance claims are denied to unlicensed drivers. In a case from 2015, a Louisiana court upheld the right of an insurance company to deny coverage to an unlicensed driver:

  • Affirmative Insurance Company sold insurance to Darryl Parker, who revealed that he did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of purchase. The insurance representative assured him that he could still purchase the policy. However, Affirmative Insurance Company has a clause in their contract stating that all policyholders must have a valid license and subsequently denied coverage in his accident.
  • Mr. Parker took the insurance company to court, making it all the way to the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal. The court upheld the insurance company’s right to deny coverage to an unlicensed driver.

When an unlicensed driver is at-fault in a collision involving a licensed motorist, recovering damages can present unique challenges.

If the unlicensed driver has insurance, then the licensed driver can file a claim through their insurance. However, as in the case above, the insurance company may deny coverage.

The next option would be to personally pursue civil action against the unlicensed driver. If the unlicensed motorist is driving a 2019 Mercedes-Benz GT-Class, they may have the means to cover your damages.

On the other hand, if the unlicensed motorist cannot personally cover your damages, the last option is to file a claim through your own insurance. If your policy has Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage, you may be able to recover damages.

What if the Uninsured Driver Did Not Own the Vehicle?

There are a few exceptional cases when an unlicensed driver causes a collision but does not own the vehicle they are operating.

For example, suppose a mother has a suspended license and borrows her son’s car for errands. If she causes an accident, the other driver may be able to file a claim with her son’s insurance policy.

Generally, insurance policies follow the vehicle, not the driver. The owner of the vehicle’s insurance policy will likely cover your damages.

However, if the vehicle was stolen or driven without permission it could invalidate the insurance coverage.

Suppose a delivery truck driver is unlicensed and causes a collision. Depending on the circumstances, an accident victim may be able to file a claim through their employer’s insurance. However, there are many factors to consider, including:

  • Was the delivery truck driver driving on company time?
  • Did the company know the driver was unlicensed?
  • Was the truck owned by a third party and licensed to the employer?

Conclusion

Car accident claims are rarely straightforward. It may be in your best interest to speak with an experienced car accident attorney from the Law Office of John W. Redmann, LLC.