What is a Financial Responsibility Hearing at the DMV? In 1974 the California State Legislature amended the California Vehicle Code to add sections 16000 thru 16078. These amendments made it mandatory that all California drivers and/or owners of motor vehicles be responsible to cover the damages or injury associated with a traffic collision.
The Financial Responsibility laws are not focused on who was at fault or what caused the traffic collision. The Financial Responsibility Laws specifically dictate:
- If you own a motor vehicle in the State of California, you must maintain proof of Financial Responsibility, whether you drive the vehicle or not. In other words, if you own a motor vehicle that you never drive, but someone else does, you still must maintain proof of Financial Responsibility.
- If you drive a motor vehicle in the State of California, you must be able to prove Financial Responsibility whether you own the vehicle or not. For example, if you borrow a friend’s car, you must either ensure that the friend maintains proof of Financial Responsibility or you must provide it yourself.
The Financial Responsibility Laws were designed to compensate property owners who suffer losses or damages as a result of traffic collisions. The law was also designed to compensate people who are injured or killed as a result of a traffic collision. Finally, the laws were specifically designed to remove drivers from the road who do not comply with the compulsory Financial Responsibility Law.
If a person is believed to have been involved in a reportable traffic collision, and it is discovered that either he or the owner of the involved vehicle did not maintain proper liability insurance, the DMV will begin an action to suspend or revoke the driving privilege of the involved owner or driver.
There are two means that an accused person may use to avoid the suspension or revocation of their driving privilege. The first is to prove that the subject vehicle was properly insured at the time of the collision. If the vehicle was insured, and such proof is provided, the DMV will terminate further action. Secondly, if proof of insurance cannot be provided, but the owner/driver believes that their driver license should not be suspended, he or she is entitled to present their case at an Administrative Hearing conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) at what is called the Driver Safety Office.
Known as a Financial Responsibility Hearing, this is a full-blown legal proceeding that is run similar to a mini trial. Exhibits are presented, evidence is reviewed, witnesses may testify and legal arguments are filed. The Financial Responsibility Hearing is run very similar to a mini trial and in strict accordance with California Administrative Law. At a Financial Responsibility Hearing, the accused owner/driver may represent themselves or they may be represented by any person of their choosing. The procedures followed during a Financial Responsibility Hearing can be complex and frustrating; and very few Californians have the knowledge or experience to properly defend themselves without guidance.
The smart owner/driver will immediately telephone the DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates (CDA) to engage a team of professionals who know how to properly win such a hearing.
What are the issues at a DMV Financial Responsibility Hearing?
Many accused owners/drivers are confused by the issues which must be decided at a Financial Responsibility Hearing. The DMV has no interest in, and will not entertain any arguments on what caused the traffic collision or who was at fault. Those are issues to be decided in a court of law, if necessary. The DMV will focus upon the following:
- Did a reportable traffic collision occur?
- Did the owner or the driver involved have proof of Financial Responsibility (in other words, was there proper auto insurance in effect at the time of the collision)?
- Was there vehicle or property damage exceeding $750?
- Was there any injury (however slight)?
- Was anyone killed?
That’s it………. That is all the DMV is mandated to establish and you will find it exceedingly difficult to convince a DMV hearing officer to consider anything more.
There are many factors in play and several tactics that can be used to minimize or eliminate the DMV’s evidence. The Financial Responsibility Hearing is often a game of planning and execution. These hearings are exceedingly difficult to maneuver but they can be won.
How can I protect myself at a DMV Financial Responsibility Hearing?
Most often an accused owner/driver will first learn they are in trouble when they receive an ominous notice in the mail. Opening an envelope from the DMV in Sacramento, the owner/driver will find an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” which explains that the DMV believes he or she has been involved in a reportable traffic collision and that there was no proper auto insurance coverage at the time. If you receive such a notice and the information is wrong, you can simply fax a copy of your insurance coverage to the DMV’s Financial Responsibility Unit at (916) 657-6320. The fix to your problem may be that simple.
On the other hand, if you believe you were wrongly accused because you or your vehicle were not involved in a reportable traffic collision, or if you did not have proper insurance but there were no damages exceeding $750 and no injury or death; you are entitled to defend yourself at a Financial Responsibility Hearing.
If you receive an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” in the mail, pick up the telephone and call the DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates. We will provide you a confidential consultation at no cost. Let our team assess for you what the best steps are for protecting your driving privilege. There is a time sensitive element to this so call CDA right away.
More about Financial Responsibility Hearings at the California DMV