Drivers License Suspensions for Civil Judgment for Not Having Insurance

Over the last few years, we have had an increase in calls with people complaining about their driver's license being suspended for a judgment issued in Georgia. How is this happening? 

It begins with a car accident in Georgia where it is determined that the driver had no insurance. Under OCGA 40-9-1 et seq;

Georgia can suspend your license when:

1) You are in an accident with no insurance and 
2) It is your fault and
3) The other car insurance company has to pay for the damage you caused and gets a judgment against you.

How does all of that happen? The biggest scare is that if you are an out of state driver in a Georgia crash and you don't have insurance, the Georgia insurance company can file suit against you and mail a copy to your driver's license address. If you never notice the letter and never respond to the lawsuit, you can get a judgment against you by default. 

Once the insurer has the judgment, they send notice to the Department of Driver Services and eventually, your out of state license will be suspended.

It is scary because all of this can happen without you even knowing it!

Here is a case that gets into the details on when the Department can and cannot suspend the license. : Miles v. Carr 224 Ga. App. 247 (1997)

      " Alyce Carr was involved in an automobile collision and was cited for failing to stop at a red light. Because she did not have insurance at the time and failed to post the required security, the Georgia Department of Public Safety ("DPS") suspended Carr's driver's license pursuant to the Georgia Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act. OCGA § 40-9-1 et seq. Carr was subsequently found not guilty of the charge. Nevertheless, following an administrative review, a hearing officer upheld the suspension of Carr's driver's license. The superior court reversed this decision and ordered the reinstatement of Carr's license. Sid Miles, DPS's commissioner, filed a petition for discretionary review, which we granted. For reasons which follow, we reverse the superior court's order.

        "When sitting in review of a department's affirmance of an administrative decision, the superior court sits only as an appellate court. [Cit.] ... The 'any evidence' test is the applicable touchstone and the presence of conflicting evidence is sufficient to satisfy that test. [Cit.]" Bowman v. Palmour, 209 Ga.App. 270(1), 433 S.E.2d 380 (1993). The superior court "shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact." OCGA § 50-13-19(h). See also Hardison v. Fayssoux, 168 Ga.App. 398, 401, 309 S.E.2d 397 (1983). In turn, in reviewing a superior court's order in a case under the Administrative Procedure Act, our function "is to determine whether the ... superior court has in [its] own final ruling committed an error of law." DeWeese v. Ga. Real Estate Comm., 136 Ga.App. 154, 155(1), 220 S.E.2d 458 (1975).

        1. If an individual is involved in an accident and does not have liability insurance, the Georgia Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act provides that the DPS must require the individual to deposit security sufficient to satisfy any judgment for damages resulting from an accident. OCGA §§ 40-9-32, 40-9-34. If the individual fails to post the required security, the DPS must suspend the operator's license and vehicle registration. OCGA § 40-9-33. "The requirements

Page 284

of depositing security under this Code section shall not apply to any [224 Ga.App. 248] person against whom the department has found that there is not a reasonable possibility of a judgment being rendered." OCGA § 40-9-32(c)(1).
        Following an administrative review in the present case, a hearing officer determined that there was a reasonable possibility of a judgment being rendered against Carr in an action arising out of the collision and, therefore, upheld the suspension of Carr's driver's license due to her failure to provide security for any such judgment. Carr has failed to present any evidence other than her acquittal in traffic court to support her argument that the hearing officer was incorrect in rendering his determination.

        The superior court concluded that there was no reasonable possibility that a judgment could be rendered against Carr, basing its determination strictly on the fact that the traffic court found Carr not guilty of failing to stop at the red light. Miles contends the superior court committed legal error in finding no reasonable possibility of a judgment being rendered against Carr and reinstating her driver's license. Specifically, Miles argues that the standard of review for the criminal action of failure to stop at a red light is a higher standard than that for a civil action against Carr. See Wilkes v. State, 210 Ga.App. 898, 437 S.E.2d 837 (1993) (failure to obey official traffic control device is a criminal offense) (physical precedent only). We agree.

        We have previously held that "while it may be presumed that evidence sufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt would also support a finding of guilt under the preponderance of evidence standard applicable in civil cases, it does not follow that an acquittal under the criminal standard would demand a finding of [non-liability] under the civil one. [Cit.]" Neal v. Neal, 160 Ga.App. 771, 772, 287 S.E.2d 109 (1982). In a more analogous situation, we have stated that "[a]lthough we are not unmindful that the decision to revoke appellee's license seems inconsistent with the decision of the probate court adjudicating appellee not guilty of the offense of DUI, a lesser standard of proof is required to impose the civil or administrative penalty of suspension of license ... than is required to convict for the criminal offense.... Therefore, the two decisions are not necessarily inconsistent. [Cit.]" Earp v. Harris, 191 Ga.App. 414, 416, 382 S.E.2d 156 (1989).

        Based on the foregoing, we conclude that, as a matter of administrative law, the superior court erred in reversing the DPS's decision and holding that merely because Carr was found not guilty of the criminal offense of failure to stop at a red light, there could be no reasonable possibility that a civil judgment could be rendered against her."

A recent case we worked on involved a lady who had a judgment against her issued 14 years ago. In Georgia, judgments must be renewed every 7 years or they go dormant. The suspended license should be open to attack in that case because the judgment is invalid. Here is the controlling statute

"§ 9-12-60. 

(a) A judgment shall become dormant and shall not be enforced:
(1) When seven years shall elapse after the rendition of the judgment before execution is issued thereon and is entered on the general execution docket of the county in which the judgment was rendered;

§ 9-12-61. Dormant judgments renewed by action or scire facias; time of renewal 

When any judgment obtained in any court becomes dormant, the same may be renewed or revived by an action or by scire facias, at the option of the holder of the judgment, within three years from the time it becomes dormant."
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