Oregon settles lawsuit over deadly crash
A civil trial set to start Tuesday has been canceled after the state of Oregon agreed to pay $500,000 to a local man whose wife was killed in a head-on collision with a wrong-way drunk driver on Interstate 5.
Safeco Insurance Company — which insured the minivan driven by repeat drunk driver Richard Webster Scott, Jr. on the night of the crash — will pay $100,000 according to terms of a settlement agreement approved Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Ashland resident Karen Greenstein, 58, was killed at approximately 3 a.m. March 27, 2014 while driving home from a late shift as a 911 dispatcher.
Scott was driving his mother’s minivan the wrong way on I-5 when he struck Greenstein’s car near Phoenix, sheering off most of the driver’s side of her car and scattering crash debris the length of a football field.
In his lawsuit, Bill Greenstein argued the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles should never have granted a driver’s license to the man who killed his wife.
If DMV workers had checked Scott’s record, they would have seen he had five past driving under the influence of intoxicants convictions in California and a suspended and revoked license in that state, according to the lawsuit.
Oregon law does not allow the DMV to grant an Oregon license to someone who has moved into the state if the person’s license is still suspended or revoked in another state, the lawsuit said.
In court filings, the Oregon DMV said its computer systems do not have the ability to obtain full driving records for people applying for regular licenses. It argued California also will not release driving records without a legal document, like a subpoena.
“That’s just not true,” Bill Greenstein said of DMV’s argument it can’t access out-of-state records. “They already have the capacity to do it. They do it regularly for commercial trucking licenses. The systems are in place to do it. It’s a really simple process. Hopefully they have made changes that will have them doing it now on regular licenses.”
Bill Greenstein noted an Oregon State Police trooper who arrived at the scene of the fatal collision was quickly able to pull up Scott’s history of DUIIs in California.
“The DMV had that ability. They just chose not to do it,” he said.
Carl Amala, Bill Greenstein’s Salem-based attorney, said a local detective investigating the crash was also able to easily get information on Scott’s driving history.
“He called the California DMV on the phone and they told him about Scott’s five prior DUII convictions and two prison sentences,” Amala said.
Oregon DMV officials could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit settlement over the weekend.
Amala said it’s not clear if the Oregon DMV has made changes and is now checking out-of-state records when people move here and apply for a driver’s license. During a March court deposition, the DMV was still not obtaining out-of-state records, he said.
“To me as a citizen of this state, it’s appalling,” Amala said.
Under Oregon rules, the DMV is required to check a national database on problem drivers before granting a driver permit or driver’s license, according to the lawsuit.
“DMV has to get its act together,” Amala said. “They’re supposed to be there protecting everybody in this state from drivers that shouldn’t be on the road. How many people are driving on Oregon roads that shouldn’t have a license — and the DMV gave them a license because they didn’t follow the rules? Heads should roll on this case.”
In the lawsuit, the state of Oregon also argued Scott would have driven anyway even if the DMV had denied him a state driver’s license.
However, Scott’s mother said she would never have given him permission to drive her minivan if he didn’t have a license.
In 2016, a jury found Scott guilty of first-degree manslaughter for killing Karen Greenstein. He was sentenced to almost 12 years in prison.
His blood alcohol level was measured multiple times in the hours after the crash, with a range of 0.212 to 0.248 percent — two-and-a-half to three times the legal limit, prosecutors said.
During the criminal trial, Scott acknowledged he could have killed even more people because he passed by multiple vehicles while driving the wrong way on I-5.
In the civil lawsuit brought by Bill Greenstein representing Karen Greenstein’s estate, Bill Greenstein sought $11.7 million in damages from the state of Oregon and Scott.
Amala said state law caps damages at $500,000, but people who have lost loved ones are allowed to file lawsuits representing what they feel is the full value of a person’s life.
Amala said when the state of Oregon offered the maximum allowed amount of $500,000, Bill Greenstein had to make a decision whether to settle the lawsuit or go through the civil trial.
“I’m quite relieved and I hope to just put it behind me now,” Bill Greenstein said of his family’s long ordeal and the settlement. “It’s been going on for five years.”
He said he appreciated all the support the community has shown, especially Southern Oregon’s first responder community.
Bill Greenstein said Karen Greenstein was a great wife and mother, and her voice was known to police officers, firefighters and others who rely on 911 dispatchers to convey information.
She was named Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon’s Dispatcher of the Year in 2011.
After her death, hundreds of people, including those in uniform, filled the Ashland High School gym for her memorial.
“She was really well known in the whole community,” Bill Greenstein said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.