DMV headed to trial in Ashland woman's death
A jury is weeks away from deciding the state of Oregon’s culpability for issuing a driver’s license to a man with five prior drunken-driving convictions who killed a local 911 dispatcher in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 5 in 2014.
Despite efforts earlier this month by the state of Oregon, a judge ruled the state will remain a defendant in William Greenstein’s wrongful death lawsuit against Richard Webster Scott Jr., the driver who killed his wife, Karen Greenstein, and the agency that issued his wife’s killer a driver’s license.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge David Hoppe denied the state’s motions to be removed from the lawsuit last week, meaning it will be up to a 12-person jury to decide who — if anyone — should be liable for the March 27, 2014, crash that killed Greenstein.
The civil trial, scheduled for 10 days, is slated to start Aug. 13. The trial will bring Scott, serving a nearly 12-year prison sentence for first-degree manslaughter, back to Jackson County, and put Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle services staff on the witness stand.
Greenstein’s lawyers are seeking $11.7 million, including an estimated $945,720 in actual lost wages she would have earned had she lived out her life, $10,000 for funeral and burial costs, $8.75 million in non-economic damages for Greenstein’s husband and daughter, and $1 million in punitive damages from Scott and the DMV.
Greenstein’s lawyers intend to argue that Oregon DMV was negligent in granting Scott a license and overlooking Scott’s five drunken-driving convictions in the state of California — three of which occurred in the summer of 2000, one in 2006 and another in 2009, according to court filings.
Scott was twice sent to prison for the latter two convictions, court filings show, but the state intends to argue that Oregon’s habitual offender statute did not apply to Scott because his prior convictions occurred in another state.
“There is currently no rule to govern how out-of-state convictions are handled under the habitual offender statute,” stated a July 8 filing submitted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Dirk Pierson.
The argument was one of many the state made seeking to be removed from the lawsuit. The state also claimed Oregon DMV staff in Josephine County followed protocol when they granted Scott a driver’s license in April of 2013 — less than a year before the fatal crash.
The state has used statements Scott made in depositions admitting that he’d driven drunk without a license prior to the crash, arguing there was only a “casual connection” between his driving privileges and whether he would’ve driven drunk that night.
Greenstein’s lawyers argue that Scott’s mother, Margaret Scott, wouldn’t have asked her son to drive her 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan to pick her up from California if he didn’t have a driver’s license.
Sixteen days prior to the fatal crash, Scott had driven his mother to visit her sister in Rippon, California, an eight-hour drive from Grants Pass, Margaret Scott said in a deposition. She arranged for Scott to pick her up and take her back to Oregon on March 27.
In the deposition, Margaret Scott said her son was “on my insurance policy, so he definitely had a license, or he wouldn’t be driving my vehicle,” according to a July 11 court filing.
An Oregon State Police detective was able to obtain Scott’s full driving history from California DMV within 15 minutes, according to the 372-page filing by Greenstein’s lawyers, which included the full OSP accident report and depositions from Margaret Scott and multiple DMV employees.
The state has previously argued that DMV computer systems lacked — and still lack — the ability to get full driving records for individuals applying for Class C driver’s licenses, citing a limit on the way DMV can spend highway funds.