Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles worker told a 78-year-old woman she had to walk across the room without her cane before she could renew her license. Under protest, the woman complied, and in the process fell, broke her wrist and was denied renewal.
Was it illegal discrimination or careful screening of a potentially dangerous driver? A federal court may decide after the woman's estate filed a civil rights lawsuit over the incident.
Before she went to renew her driver's license in West Bend last year, Mary Wobschall visited an optometrist to make sure her 78-year-old vision was still fine. Diagnosis: No corrective lenses required for driving.
But she hadn't expected a DMV worker to make her walk across the lobby without her cane, which she used since double knee replacement years earlier.
Her husband, Ronald Wobschall, objected and asked the examiner how walking without her cane related to his wife's license renewal. The examiner insisted, and Mary got up, without her cane, and tried to follow orders.
She fell and broke her wrist. The examiner denied her renewal and gave her a form saying she would need a general medical examination "due to fall at DMV + confusion" before she could renew.
Wobschall had surgery on her wrist. She died four months later, from other causes.
Her estate's lawsuit contends the examiner, whom a West Bend DMV manager refused to identify when the Wobschalls returned seeking that information nine days later, acted with malice and deliberate indifference to Wobschall's rights. She had not filled in her badge number as required on the medical form.
According to the suit, if a DMV worker thinks an applicant needs to be seen by a medical professional, he or she is supposed to issue a 60-day temporary license. Wobschall's suit says his wife was not issued that license and was told she had until the end of the month to renew or lose her license.
Making applicants who use canes or other "personal mobility devices" like crutches demonstrate they can walk without the device as a condition of getting a license violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and Wobschall's constitutional guarantees of due process, according to the suit.
"A DMV license examiner employed by Defendants is not qualified to make a determination of whether an individual possesses a physical condition, impairment, or disability that might prevent such individuals from exercising reasonable and ordinary control in the operation of a motor vehicle," the suit states.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Wobschall's physical and emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish and medical expenses.
The lawsuit doesn't mention any other medical conditions for Wobschall when she sought to renew her license on June 11, 2018. According to an obituary, she suffered a stroke near retirement that "gave her many challenges as years went on."
A Wisconsin DOT spokesperson said no one would discuss the issues raised in the lawsuit because the case is pending.
Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.