Driver’s license suspension is an enforcement mechanism for various types of unpaid debts or fines. In California, debt owing to an individual may be the basis for a license suspension. This can occur if you have been sued, and a judgment has issued for damages (property or personal injury) caused by a car accident. The good news is that many of these types of judgments can be discharged in a bankruptcy case. Depending on the injury and the type of damages, a Chapter 7 case may be the solution. Otherwise, a Chapter 13 case can be filed. Chapter 13 allows for a greater scope of dischargeability of various types of difficult debts, and can often be the necessary step toward obtaining a release.
There are various legal grounds for suspension in the State of California. California’s vehicle code section 16370 provides that an individual’s driver’s license can be suspended if the individual fails to pay a judgment within 30 days of the judgment being issued. The judgment must be for property damage exceeding $750 or for damage in any amount on account of bodily injury to or death of any person resulting from operation of a motor vehicle on a highway in California. Cal. Vehicle Code § 16251.
The driver’s license will remain suspended until the judgment is satisfied (or one of the other enumerated steps have been taken). Cal. Vehicle Code § 16371.
Bankruptcy can, for some, be a safe harbor that will allow an individual to have a fresh start on life. It is possible to get a driver’s license reinstated that has been suspended due to an unsatisfied judgment related to a vehicle accident in California. To get the driver’s license released an individual must receive a bankruptcy discharge and then provide a certified copy of the discharge to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
However, not all individuals will be able receive a discharge of the underlying debt. Bankruptcy Code Section 523(a)(9) provides that a debt for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s unlawful operation of a motor vehicle while the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug or another substance is not discharged. Thus, a driver’s license cannot be reinstated through the bankruptcy process if it was suspended due to a judgment related to a motor vehicle accident that involved drugs or alcohol, and the driver was cited for a DUI. The specific facts of the case need to be reviewed by an experienced attorney who will research the current state of the case and statutory law, and review the judgment for the legal basis for the debt. Often there is a loophole that can be utilized to gain a favorable outcome for the client.
Another common basis for license suspension is non-paid child support. The best avenue for a driver’s license release is to go to family court, with a properly noticed motion, requesting the affirmative relief, with a plausible argument regarding the current state of non-payment. Most judges are somewhat sympathetic, and will issue a release if the proper documents are filed and noticed with the Court.