HARTFORD — State lawmakers are being advised to deny a waiver for the family of 14-year-old Prospect boy to sue the state Department of Motor Vehicles for wrongly granting a license to the five-time DUI offender who killed him.
The family of Matthew Kenney is looking to pursue a wrongful death claim against the DMV because the driver in question was granted a license even though his previous five convictions for driving under the influence rendered him ineligible.
The Prospect teen was killed riding his bicycle on Route 69 in April 2007 when he was hit by car driven by then 45-year-old David Weaving of Waterbury. A Republican-American investigation determined that a computer glitch and a mistake by DMV personnel allowed Weaving to have his license restored after his fifth DUI conviction in 1999.
A divided Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 last Tuesday to recommend the full legislature uphold the decision of the state claims commissioner to dismiss the Kenney family’s request. Support and opposition to the recommendation cut across party lines.
State law shields the state government from lawsuits, so parties wishing to sue the state must seek permission from the Office of the Claims Commissioner. The commissioner can reject a claim, grant permission to sue the state or grant an award.
Joanne Kenney, the mother of Matthew Kenney, filed a claim seeking to bring a wrongful death action against the state because the DMV granted Weaver a license when the law clearly prohibited him from having one because of his DUI convictions.
The Kenney family’s previous attempts to hold the DMV accountable through the state courts stalled. The state Appellate Court ruled in 2010 that the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity shielded then-DMV Commissioner Robert Ward from liability. The doctrine protects government officials and employees from lawsuits resulting from the performance of their duties.
The Kenney family amended their lawsuit three times in an unsuccessful effort to hold Ward and the department liable in Matthew’s death. Ward had only been DMV commissioner for four months when the fatality occurred.
In 2010, another three-judge panel of the Appellate Court rejected Weaving’s appeal of convictions.
Weaving received a 10-year prison sentence after he was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in December 2009, to be suspended after eight years. A jury concluded that Weaving was driving recklessly when he struck Matthew while changing lanes to pass a car in front of him. He was traveling at 83 mph in a 45 mph zone.