Sophia was excited.1 She was an avid hat pin collector and her new hat pin was scheduled to arrive today. Hat pins were how she remembered her grandmother Adassa. Her grandmother developed her interest in hat pins beauty and history. She wore her hat pins proudly on her work apron at the hardware store. It was one of the few things her boss allowed to be worn on her work hats or apron to express individuality. Sophia was as giddy as a child in anticipation of what was to arrive in her mail box today. When she arrived home, she parked her car and scurried almost in a skip to her mailbox. She gathered her mail but the box with the smiley face, the sure sign of her package's arrival, was not in her mailbox. She was not pleased but looked through the rest of her mail. One letter did spark her interest. It was from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sophia opened the letter to read. The letter detailed that DPS would suspend her Texas driver's license because she failed to pay a judgment finding her at fault for an auto accident. The $23,000 civil judgment against Sophia was rendered eighteen months ago and remained unpaid. Sophia's heart skipped a beat. Without a driver's license she could not get to work or to her classes at the University of Houston. She wondered how could this be? What did a civil judgment have to do with her driving license, anyway?
License Suspension Can Result From An Unpaid Civil Judgment In An Auto Accident Case
Our fictional character Sophia was wrong. An unpaid civil judgment from an auto accident can wreak havoc on a person's privilege to drive. Once the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) receives notice of an unpaid judgment due to an auto accident that resulted in
b. injury; and/or
c. property damages greater than $10002
the driver found at fault, may receive a license suspension.3 Persons in Sophia's situation are not without hope in fighting a license suspension or regaining their privilege to drive once a license suspension occurs.
Defense To Texas Driver's License Suspension Resulting From An Unpaid Judgment
A person has a defense to a license suspension, if proof of insurance is provided to DPS showing that driver had:
a. liability insurance covering the vehicle involved at the time the accident occurred;
b. an affidavit stating that the judgment debtor was insured by auto insurance at the time of the accident, the insurance company is liable to pay the judgment and the reason if known, why the judgment was not paid;
c. the original policy or if available, a certified copy of the auto insurance policy; and
d. any other document required by DPS to show the loss was covered by insurance at the time of the accident.4
Once DPS receives satisfactory proof that the judgment debtor had motor vehicle liability insurance at the time of the accident, the insurance company was authorized to issue insurance policies in the State of Texas at the time of the accident, and the insurer is liable to pay the judgment to the extent and amount required by law, the judgment debtor's license may not be suspended. If already suspended, then DPS must reinstate the person's driving license.5
If not already suspended, DPS may not suspend a person's driver's license if the person submits proof that they have financial responsibility (SR-22)6 and the person obtained an order to pay the judgment in installments.7 A judgment debtor, after giving notice to the judgment creditor, may apply to the court to pay the judgment in installments. The court may order installment payments and detail the amount and time of payment.8 However, failure to comply with the installment payments as established with the court could result in DPS suspension of driving privileges until the judgment is satisfied.9
Excuse From License Suspension Resulting From An Unsatisfied Judgment
If a judgment debtor receives consent from a judgment creditor, then they may be allowed to continue their driving privileges. To receive a continuation of driving privileges, DPS will need written consent from the judgment creditor consenting to a continuation of the driving privileges submitted in form SR-8410 and proof that the judgment debtor now has proof of financial responsibility, a SR-22.11
Regaining Your Driving License After Suspension
Once DPS suspends a license because of an unsatisfied judgment, the judgment creditor may regain their license if they provide proof the judgment was paid in full or satisfied. To show this, DPS requires submission of a SR-11.12 Alternatively, if the judgment creditor works out a payment arrangement with the judgment creditor, DPS will want a SR-1913 as proof of the payment arrangement before lifting the suspension.
If ten years elapsed since the rendition of the liability judgment and a writ of execution was not issued to renew the judgment, then the judgment is now dormant. A dormant judgment may not be enforced unless revived.14 To obtain a license renewal after a judgment becomes dormant, DPS requires submission of form SR-88.15 DPS will require the payment of all reinstatement fees before a license is reinstated.
If you are in a situation similar to Sophia, contact our firm to see how we may assist you in keeping or regaining your Texas driver's license.
Author's Information: Attorney Tracey A. Beecher represents persons accused of class c misdemeanors and city code ordinance violations within the City of Houston Municipal Courts, Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts and Fort Bend County Justice of the Peace Courts.
Legal Disclaimer: Each person's situation and circumstances are unique. As such, this article is given to provide general information only. It is not legal advice nor is it intended as a substitute for legal counsel. Should the reader need legal advice or counsel, it is appropriate to seek the assistance of a licensed attorney.
Citations and Resources
1 Image by Karolina Grabowska on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/images/search/user:kaboompics%20key/
2 Crash Suspension at https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/CrashSuspension.htm
3 Texas Transportation Code 601.332 (a)
4 Texas Transportation Code 601.333 (a)
5 Texas Transportation Code 601.333 (b)
6 A SR-22 must be provided by the insurance provider. It is certified proof that a person maintains liability insurance. See https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/SR22InsuranceCertificate.htm
7 Texas Transportation Code 601.336(a)
8 Texas Transportation Code 601.335
9 Texas Transportation Code 601.336 (c)
11 Texas Transportation Code 601.334 (a)
14 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 34.001(b)