Car Wreck And Drivers License

Residents of Weatherford, Aledo, Azle, Hudson Oaks, Millsap, Brock, Willow Park, Mineral Wells, Springtown, Cool, Peaster, Poolville, and other places in Parker County would be surprised by the fact that driving without a drivers license and being involved in a wreck does not mean the unlicensed driver is at fault.
The Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case in 1959, that is still good law today and is interesting reading. The style of the case is, James Eugene Flanigan et al v. Jack Carswell et al. The issues and the facts in the case are kinda complicated and confusing but we will focus on the part dealing with a drivers license.
Carswell was the owner and operator of an ambulance which had been issued a permit as an emergency ambulance by the Texas State Board of Health. At trial, a jury found that at the time of the collision Carswell was on an authorized run, and that the ambulance was traveling at a rate of speed in excess of 30 MPH, but less than 40MPH. It was undisputed that Carswell had only an ordinary Texas operator’s license while driving the ambulance. Flanagan and the other plaintiffs argued that because Carswell was operating the vehicle with only an ordinary license rather than a chauffeur’s license when he was exceeding the 30 MPH speed limit, that his actions were negligence per se. So the jury had no choice but to find as a matter of law that Carswell’s action in exceeding the 30 MPH limit was negligence. Understand the argument by Flanigan was that as an ambulance driver Carswell could have been operating legally up to 40 MPH. But because he did not have the chauffeurs license, he was breaking the law and negligent per se.
In ruling on this case the court could not agree with the plaintiff’s argument. In discussion the court said this contention would lead to a holding either (1) that an ambulance meeting the statutory definition of an “emergency vehicle” in all respects, but which at the time of the collision was being driven by Carswell, who was not licensed as a chauffeur, was not an “emergency vehicle” within the purview of the statute permitting an “emergency vehicle” to exceed ordinary speed limits, or (2) that, even though the ambulance was an emergency vehicle and could lawfully travel at a speed of 40 MPH, the nonchauffeur-licensed driver of that ambulance could not accelerate its speed faster than 30 MPH. The contention would thus be reduced to the narrow proposition that the status of an emergency vehicle operated on an emergency run is dependent upon the driver’s license, at least in so far as the vehicle is authorized to exceed the ordinary speed limits.
The court stated it is unimportant to their decision whether or not an ambulance driver is required to be licensed as a chauffeur. Therefore, for the purposes of the case, they assumed that Carswell should have had such a license, and that his driving without a proper license was a violation of the penal code. But they held that an ambulance was an “emergency ambulance” and that the failure of Carswell to have a chauffeur’s license did not render his driving negligence per se.
Important to the ruling was the fact that Carswell was driving the emergency ambulance without securing a valid driver’s license would not absolve Flanigan of negligence as the operator of the other motor vehicle.
The important thing to realize from this case is that a person who is violating the law while operating a motor vehicle is not automatically at fault for any resulting accident. A victim would have to show that the violation of the law was a contributing factor to the accident. Here is a good example. Suppose an unlicensed, drunk driver, with an expired inspection sticker and license plate is legally stopped at a red light. Then suppose that another driver runs into this stopped driver. Who’s fault is the accident? Hopefully you will agree that the driver who drove into the rear of the driver who was legally stopped at the red light was the one at fault.
For the driver who was legally stopped at the red light to be at fault there would have to be proof that some of the illegal things he was doing caused the accident. In the scenario as described there is simply no fault to be put on him.