The purpose of the Texas Safety Responsibility Law (n/k/a the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act) is to promote safe driving practices among all owners and operators of motor vehicles using the highways of this State, and to require such owners and operators to discharge their financial responsibility to others for damage to persons or property occasioned by the exercise, by such owner or operator, of the privilege or license of using the public highways of this State. Gonzalez v. Texas Department of Public Safety, 340 S.W.2d 860, 863 (Tex.Civ.App.-El Paso 1960, no writ).
Under the Act, the owner/operator of an automobile is required to establish financial responsibility, such as an automobile liability insurance policy, before operating a vehicle on Texas highways. If a person causes a collision through his own negligence and fails to establish financial responsibility in compliance with the Act, the Texas Department of Public Safety ("DPS") will assist the injured party in the recovery of their damages arising from the collision. If the negligent/uninsured party is a resident of the State, their driver's license and vehicle registration can be suspended. If the negligent/uninsured party is a nonresident, then the result could be a suspension of driving privileges in the State. It must also be noted that the insured injured party may have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage as a part of their insurance policy as required by the Texas Insurance Code. However, there could still be damages above the amount that the uninsured insurance policy will pay.
The following is a brief summary of the process of submitting a claim for damages to the DPS, the procedures for suspension of the uninsured's driver's license and registration or driving privileges, and how to recover damages incurred as a result of the accident.
There are five basic pre-requisites that should be considered before submitting a claim for damages to the DPS. The first is a time limitation on the accident. As a general rule, the accident must be younger than one year and ten months before the DPS will proceed against the uninsured. Second, the accident must have occurred on a public highway. Generally, a highway is any road that is not privately owned and that is open to the public for traffic. Third, there must be an accident report regarding the accident. This report must indicate that the third party does not have liability insurance (or any other acceptable form of financial responsibility permitted under the Act). If the third party does not have insurance, although it was listed on the officer's report, a denial of coverage letter from the named insurance company is sufficient. Fourth, the officer's report or other evidence must clearly indicate that the injured party is not at fault for the accident. Finally, the damages incurred and/or injuries sustained in the accident must total at least $1,000.00.
Submitting Documents to the DPS
The following items should be sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety:
- DPS form SR-106.
- Check for $7.00.
- Estimates and invoices for damages, injuries, and lost wages.
- Copy of the accident or officer's report.
The address is: Safety Responsibility Bureau, Texas Department of Public Safety, P.O. Box 4087, Austin, TX 78773-0001 (512-424-2600).
DPS Form SR-106
The purpose of the DPS form SR-106 is to receive information from the DPS. This form is not required in order for the DPS to pursue recovery against the uninsured party under the Act, however it is used to check the status of the case from the DPS. This form should be submitted with a check for $7.00. This fee must be paid each time the SR-106 form is submitted to the DPS.
Copies of estimates and invoices for property damage, medical expenses, and lost wages should be included with the SR-106 form. Damage estimates for property should come from a mechanic's or repair shop. These estimates should include all parts and labor, car rental expenses, and storage expenses, to the extent they are applicable. If the vehicle has been totaled, a Total Loss Statement should be sent to the DPS. If the property damage has already been paid for, then submit the invoice. Copies of itemized medical bills for injuries sustained in the accident should be sent, regardless of whether they have been paid or not. Finally, if wages have been lost as a result of injuries sustained in the accident, a statement from the employer should be submitted listing the total hours and wages lost.
Notice of Suspension Letter
After receiving the required information, the DPS will send a letter to the uninsured party, listing the total amount of damages. Upon receiving this notice, the uninsured party has twenty days to reply. The uninsured party has the following options upon receiving the notice of suspension:
- Contact the injured party and set up an acceptable plan of payment (in most instances this is an installment agreement) and send evidence of the agreement to the DPS;
- Send evidence of a release from liability from the injured party for claims arising out of the accident; or
- Send evidence of a final adjudication of no liability for claims arising out of the accident.
An installment agreement negotiated between both parties should be submitted to the DPS using DPS form SR-19. The agreement must be signed by all parties in the presence of either a notary public or two witnesses.
Probability of Judgment Against the Uninsured Party
If the uninsured party fails to comply with any of the options set forth in the preceding section, the DPS shall determine of whether there is a probability of a judgment being rendered against the uninsured party. The Department may use any of the following to make its determination:
- the report of the investigating officer;
- an accident report of a party involved in the accident; or
- an affidavit of a person who has knowledge of the facts.
If the Department finds that there is a reasonable probability of a judgment being rendered against the uninsured party, the Department shall determine the amount of security required to be deposited. The amount of security is an amount the Department determines would be sufficient to satisfy a judgment in an action for damages arising from the accident. The security shall be no less than $1,000.00, but no more than the minimum coverage amounts for motor vehicle liability insurance.
The DPS will send the uninsured notice of its determination that a probability of judgment will be rendered against him. The uninsured party must either establish that the Act does not apply or establish that there is not a reasonable probability of judgment being rendered against him. The uninsured party is entitled to a hearing if it is requested in writing within twenty days from the receipt of the Department's determination.
A hearing requested by the uninsured party will be held by a municipal court judge or a justice of the peace. At the hearing, the judge shall determine whether there is a reasonable probability that a judgment will be rendered against the uninsured party. Upon a finding that there is a reasonable probability that a judgment will be rendered against the uninsured party, the court shall make a determination of the amount of security that is sufficient to satisfy any judgment for damages arising out of the accident. The uninsured party may appeal the court's findings to the county court by trial de novo. The DPS may not suspend the driver's license and vehicle registration or driving privileges of the uninsured party during the pendency of a hearing or an appeal.
If the uninsured party fails to comply with the applicable provisions of this Act, the Department may suspend the driver's license and vehicle registration if the party is a resident. If the uninsured party is a nonresident, the Department may suspend their driving privileges.
The suspension will last until the uninsured party either:
- deposits the required security with the Department and sends proof of financial responsibility; or
- after the second anniversary of the date of the accident, files proof that no civil action for damages has been brought by the injured party.
In addition, the uninsured party may file evidence of either a release from liability, an adjudication of no liability for claims arising out of the accident, or an installment agreement.
The injured party may collect the security deposit by either instituting an action for damages incurred as a result of the accident or by negotiating an installment agreement with the uninsured party. If the injured party wishes to collect by judgment, the action for damages must be brought before the second anniversary of the date of the accident. The security deposit of the uninsured party will be returned upon a showing that no action for damages has been brought by the injured party within the time prescribed by the statute and that no judgment rendered against the uninsured party remains unpaid.