It is illegal to drive without a valid driver’s license. It is also illegal for you to give permission to a person to drive your vehicle who does not have a valid driver’s license. However, just because it is illegal, does not mean people do not do it all the time.
At our office, we have recently seen an influx of auto accident cases where individuals were hit by a driver who was driving a vehicle with a suspended license. A suspended license is like having no license at all under the law. A person’s license can be suspended for many reasons. Often our clients who were hit by a driver with a suspended license to not even realize it until they see a copy of the police report.
The question for many of our clients becomes, Will the insurance company pay for my injuries and my property damage that this unlicensed driver caused me? The short answer is, likely yes, but it depends. It is likely the auto insurance company will be required to pay for a person who was injured or sustained property damage in an accident with an unlicensed driver.
Every owner of a vehicle is required to present a valid driver’s license to obtain an automobile insurance policy. Most people present a valid driver’s license to the auto insurance company when they initially obtain insurance coverage on their vehicles, but find themselves in the situation later when their driver’s license may be suspended or revoked for some other reason, i.e. drinking and driving. Because of the frequency in which these situations arise, it is important that victims injured by unlicensed driver’s be covered by the unlicensed driver’s auto insurance policy.
In Louisiana, courts liberally interpret insurance policies. In other words, Louisiana courts will read auto insurance policies with the intent of finding insurance coverage as opposed to denying insurance coverage. Even if an auto insurance company puts a specific clause in their policy, the clause in that auto insurance policy may not always be enforceable. Louisiana courts have the power to strike out any clause in an auto insurance policy that is against public policy. It is the public policy of this state to provide insurance coverage to unlicensed drivers in certain situations.
In the past, Louisiana courts reached different conclusions when addressing the issue of whether an automobile liability insurer can exclude coverage to an insured, or a person driving the insured’s vehicle with his or her permission, if that person does not have a valid driver’s license. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court stepped in and ruled in Adams v. Thomas, that such an exclusion in an insurance policy is not enforceable as it is against public policy. An insurance company cannot deny coverage under an automobile liability policy for a person who has an invalid or suspended driver’s license as long as: (1) the unlicensed driver is a named insured on the insurance policy; and/or (2) the named insured on the insurance policy gave express or implied permission to the unlicensed driver to use their vehicle.
There is a circumstance where the insurance company can deny coverage. Some insurance policies contain what is known as a “named driver exclusion”. If the unlicensed driver is specifically excluded by name under the liability insurance policy, then the insurance company may deny liability coverage to the unlicensed driver and/or owner of the vehicle. However, there are only certain circumstances where a person can be a “named excluded driver” under an insurance policy, and those are discussed more in La. R.S. 32:900.
Even though there may be insurance coverage for you as an unlicensed driver, or for you as a person who gave permission to an unlicensed driver to use your vehicle, you should be aware:
- Criminal violations and criminal fees may apply;
- The insurance company may increase your insurance premiums;
- You may have issues getting another insurance company to insure you following the incident; and
- A variety of other issues may arise which you can read more about here.
In short, the illegality of driving without a valid license does not give rise to the validity of an exclusion for an unlicensed driver which may be contained in an insurance policy. That is why we stress to all individuals that they should consult a lawyer, rather than relying on their own interpretation of an automobile insurance policy. A person who is not a lawyer may read their insurance policy and think just because it contains specific language, that language is enforceable and binding. However, as explained above, that is not always the case. We have litigated many insurance coverage disputes resulting in a favorable award for our clients, forcing the insurance company to pay even though the insurance company initially denied coverage to our client. If you have a question about coverage under your auto insurance policy, the wording contained in your auto insurance policy or whether you have auto insurance coverage after an accident, contact us for a free consultation at 504-522-3333 or www.cardonelaw.com.