As is common for the start of the New Year, a host of new rules that were previously enacted come into existence in California.
For example, a law previously voted on and passed by California voters regarding the humane confinement of food producing animals takes effect.
Another new law that took effect on Friday, January 2, 2015 was the controversial law allowing undocumented immigrants to legally obtain drivers licenses.
Opponents of the law will argue that it gives a free pass to someone who may have entered the country without proper documentation, and is a step towards amnesty.
Proponents of the law will argue that it allows many hardworking people who drive to work every day and pay taxes (even if undocumented) to do the right thing and get a drivers license. Those persons can pay the fee to be licensed and get tested to prove competency, which makes us all safer.
Regardless of which side of the debate somebody falls, the law is in effect.
Will this law effect someone who is undocumented and who has a personal injury or workers compensation case? The answer is yes and no.
For both workers compensation and personal injury cases, there is no requirement that the injured person be a United States citizen in order to pursue their cases. There is also no requirement that somebody have a valid drivers license.
In personal injury cases the fact that somebody was or was not a licensed driver is almost never relevant. For example, lets say an unlicensed driver is legally stopped at a red light and they are crashed into by a drunk driver and injured. The fact of whether or not the injured person hit by the drunk driver had a valid driver's license plays no role in who was at fault for the collision. If the unlicensed driver's actions played no role in the cause of the collision, and if the drunk driver (in this example) is 100% at fault for the collision, it logically follows that the fact that the injured person did not possess a valid driver's license is legally irrelevant in a civil case for personal injuries (but a police officer could still issue a traffic ticket for driving without a license; but that is a criminal case and a separate proceeding from the personal injury case).
About the only time a valid drivers license is an issue in a personal injury case would be if the injured person drove a vehicle for a living and claimed they could no longer drive (the defense would argue that could not legally drive and the defense would arguably have a point) or if an employer were being sued for negligent hiring or supervision, and their employee drove an employer vehicle but was unlicensed.
So what does this all mean?
I try to stay away from politics in this blog, but I can say this. There are many hard working people in California who are undocumented. Many just want the opportunity (opportunity is one of the things that makes the U.S. a truly great country) to better themselves and their children.
They want to be licensed drivers, carry insurance, and contribute to society; but because they are undocumented, they are forced to drive (without a license) to get to work, take kids to school, etc.
The new law will help those hard working people avoid that fear and allow the State of California to receive income generation via license fees. It is also likely to increase the amount of undocumented drivers who carry car insurance. I know of some persons who have insurance even though they do not have driver's licenses, but certainly there are some undocumented drivers who have not purchased car insurance simply because they feared that without a driver's license the insurance agents would not sell them insurance. Increasing the number of insured drivers on the road in California is a good thing for all of us, so to the extent the new law encourages the number of insured drivers that is a positive thing.
For anyone that is undocumented and wants to know how to go about getting a driver's license, the California Department of Motor Vehicles can help (Hereinafter DMV). Generally you will have to pass the written test (and study booklets are available in Spanish at the DMV for no charge), a vision test, and schedule a behind-the-wheel driving test. Applicants will also have to submit a thumbprint.
The special licenses will feature text explaining that they are not acceptable for official Federal purposes, such as flying on an airplane. The licenses will take away the worry of being ticketed for not having a license or having the car impounded if someone is pulled over by a police officer.
Applicants are encouraged to study and thoroughly review the driver's handbook before taking the written test.
Adam Sorrells is a personal injury lawyer who practices in Chico, California. His practice emphasizes representation of persons who have suffered serious injuries, either on the job or in some person injury event like an automobile collision, animal attack, defective product, farm machinery, etc. He represents clients throughout the State of California, but mainly in Northern California.