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How Does Not Having A Driver’s License Effect A Car Accident Lawsuit?

William Bill Hurst – Your Indiana Car Accident Attorney

An Unlicensed Driver in an Accident

It seems that there is a common belief that when a person is in an auto accident and does not have a valid driver’s license that the person may somehow be responsible for the accident. Indianapolis Personal Injury LawyerThis is a myth. Whether it is because a driver’s license has expired or invalidated or the person could not get a license to begin with, many accidents occur where one driver does not have a valid driver’s license. Whether or not you are that unlicensed driver, you might wonder whether the lack of a license will automatically make that “license-less” person responsible for the accident.

In order for a driver of a vehicle to be found responsible (/“liable”) for an accident, it must be shown that the driver was negligent in the operation of the motor vehicle. It must also be found that that negligent behavior was the “proximate cause” of the accident. In determining the proximate cause, the rule is that the injury must be the “natural and probable consequence” of the negligent act. Hawkins v. Cannon, 826 N.E.2d 658 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

The question then arises, is driving a motor vehicle without a license “negligent?” And if it is negligent, was the accident the “natural and probable consequence” of driving without a license? The Indiana Supreme Court has made its view clear on these matters in several cases:

“We are unable to see how [age], or lack of an operator’s license, could be the proximate cause of an injury. It is true that lack of skill or knowledge concerning the operation of an automobile may cause an injury… [b]ut if a person, adult or minor, unlicensed to operate an automobile, is entrusted with one and operates it with that degree of care and skill that is required of a licensed operator, negligence cannot be [based] upon the mere fact of [age] or lack of an operator’s license.”

Opple v. Ray, 208 Ind. 450, 455, 195 N.E. 81, 83 (1935). Thus more would need to be shown than just lack of a driver’s license. The Indiana Supreme Court has said that one must look to the “facts surrounding the accident” to see whether the person was driving “with that degree of care and skill that is required of a licensed operator.” Negligence cannot be predicated upon the mere fact of minority or lack of such license.” Shaw v. Hart, 136 Ind. App. 567, 569-70, 202 N.E.2d 587, 588 (1964). Some Indiana courts have even held that evidence showing lack of a license cannot be presented at trial! Nesvig v. Town of Porter, 668 N.E.2d 1276, 1285 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996). All in all, lack of a driver’s license really has nothing to do with whether a person is responsible for an accident, though the unlicensed driver is guilty of breaking the Indiana law requiring all drivers to have a license, but that is a criminal matter.

 

Loaning Your Car to an Unlicensed Driver (“Negligent Entrustment”)

Another question one might have is if you, as the owner of a car, are liable for loaning your car to someone without a license when then causes a car accident. Indianapolis Personal Injury LawyerThis concept is known as “negligent entrustment” and has been previously discussed in our blog: Am I Responsible for the Accident Caused by the Friend/Family who Borrowed my Car?. To be held responsible for the negligent entrustment of a vehicle, it must be shown that the vehicle owner entrusted the vehicle to a driver with knowledge [at the time of the loan] that the driver was “incompetent to drive”. Johnson v. Owens, 639 N.E.2d 1016, 1022 (Ind.Ct.App.1994). One is incompetent to drive if he/she is incapacitated (i.e. drunk), uninstructed in the vehicle’s use, or unfamiliar with the dangers of using the vehicle. Stocker v. Cataldi, 489 N.E.2d 144, 145 (Ind.Ct.App.1986). Interestingly, courts have varied on whether negligent entrustment can be shown by loaning a car to an unlicensed driver. Some courts have found that lack of a license is irrelevant to “incompetence to drive” while others have found that lack of a license can prove negligent entrustment in some situations. The cases seem to hinge on whether the driver did not possess sufficient skills to drive as evidenced by the lack of a drivers license. See Cedars ex rel. Cedars v. Waldon, 706 N.E.2d 219 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999); Johnson v. Owens, 639 N.E.2d 1016, 1022 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994)). Still other courts have held that negligent entrustment by the vehicle owner cannot be found unless the driver to which the car was entrusted is himself found negligent; such courts want to see both negligent entrustment as well as negligence from the driver.  Standard Mut. Ins. Co. v. Bailey, 868 F.2d 893, 897-899 (7th Cir. 1989). Overall, when it comes to loaning out your car, it would be wise to be careful who you lend it to! Depending on the court, you might be found liable if the driver doesn’t have a license and caused an accident.

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If we’re unable to obtain a settlement of verdict for you we eat the costs we’ve advanced to litigate your case, which includes costs for ordering medical records, filing your case, hiring experts, deposing witnesses, and many other things.

If we do settle your case or obtain a verdict for you our standard rate is 33% of the settlement or verdict, plus reimbursement for the expense we’ve previously advanced. Our fee never increases like some personal injury attorneys, even if we have to take your case to trial.

Our Fees

It cost $0 up front to hire our office. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we settle your case or obtain a verdict on your behalf.

If we’re unable to obtain a settlement of verdict for you we eat the costs we’ve advanced to litigate your case, which includes costs for ordering medical records, filing your case, hiring experts, deposing witnesses, and many other things.

If we do settle your case or obtain a verdict for you our standard rate is 33% of the settlement or verdict, plus reimbursement for the expense we’ve previously advanced. Our fee never increases like some personal injury attorneys, even if we have to take your case to trial.

Case Worth

As a victim, establishing damages, negotiating with the insurance company, or filing a lawsuit can be daunting and next to impossible without the assistance of an experienced lawyer. As a result, if you have been hurt in an accident, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you recover the compensation to which you are entitled under Indiana law.

Why Hire?

Choosing an attorney that has experience dealing with personal injury law is important to protect your legal rights. If you are trying to recover damages from a business or other type of organization, you can bet that they are going to have a legal team on their side.

Medical Bills

If you were injured by an accident you may be struggling to determine who is responsible for paying your medical bills and holding them accountable. Speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer at The Law Office of William W. Hurst and learn if we may be able to help.

Recovery

After you have been injured, you are entitled to compensation. The type and amount of compensation depends on the injury, bills, the cause of the injury, negligence/bad faith of the defendant, etc. The attorney you retain can also heavy influence your recovery through knowledge, experience, and dedication. Legal terms and phrases can be confusing even after you retain an attorney. If you have been injured, you may wonder how much your case is worth or what your “damages” are. The worse the injuries, the higher the value of the case and the greater need for an experienced attorney