By Conrad Dudderar
A wrongful death lawsuit is now closed after a Canadian County judge has denied a request to change his previous ruling that found an event venue was not liable in a fatal drunk driving crash near Yukon.
Mustang’s Jeff and Kristy Murrow filed the civil action in November 2020 seeking to hold The Springs event venue partially responsible for the death of their daughter Marissa.
Canadian County District Judge Jack D. McCurdy II on Nov. 9 signed an order denying plaintiffs’ motion to vacate or modify order.
“After hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the briefs and case law presented by the parties, the Court took the matter under advisement,” the order reads. “This is the Court’s ruling from that hearing.
“The Court finds the motion should be and is hereby denied.”
Judge McCurdy, on Aug. 29, filed an order granting The Springs Events LLC’s motion for summary judgment.
“This case arises out of a horrible accident in which the plaintiffs’ daughter was killed by an intoxicated driver who attended a wedding at the defendant’s wedding venue,” Judge McCurdy wrote in that court order.
“The issue raised in the (The Springs’) motion is whether or not the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiffs under Oklahoma law for the result of the acts of a third party. To that question, the Court finds the answer is no, they did not.”
Marissa Murrow, 19, was killed in a “wrong-way” traffic collision in October 2020 on the Kilpatrick Turnpike near S.W. 15th east of Yukon.
Oklahoma City’s Malcolm Douglas Penney, 41, was convicted Feb. 1 of second-degree murder and leaving the scene of a fatality accident. District Judge Paul Hesse sentenced the habitual drunk driving offender to serve life in state prison for causing the deadly crash.
Penney is housed at the James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena, Okla.
Plaintiffs Jeff and Kristy Murrow believe The Springs contributed to their daughter’s death because Penney drank in excess at a wedding there before getting behind the wheel.
The Springs, which owns and operates a for-profit event venue north of Edmond, was sued for negligence for failing to enforce or properly implement its “rules, policies, procedures and prohibitions related to the on-premises consumption of alcohol” at the Oct. 2, 2020 wedding.
The Springs allowed or directed Malcolm Penney to leave its premises despite him having consumed alcohol for “nearly 10 hours that day” and leaving intoxicated in a private motor vehicle, according to the lawsuit.
Judge McCurdy, however, found that the common law rule applies to this set of facts. That law being that “a person has no duty to prevent a third person from causing a physical injury to another.”
McCurdy determined there is no “statutory duty” he is aware of that would impose a duty on The Springs or that applies in this case.
The judge further found that this “set of facts do not place this case within any of the carved-out exceptions that would impose liability” on the defendant.
In granting The Springs’ motion for summary judgment, Judge McCurdy wrote that the actions of defendant Malcolm Penney were a “supervening cause that would also prevent the plaintiffs from recovering against the defendant, The Springs LLC.”
JUDGE’S RULING CHALLENGED
The plaintiffs’ attorneys on Sept. 7 filed the motion to vacate or modify order challenging the judge’s ruling in favor of The Springs.
“Plaintiffs submit evidence previously withheld and not produced by defendant The Springs is relevant to this Court’s analysis,” the motion reads. “Therefore, plaintiffs respectfully request this Court review this additional evidence, vacate or modify the August 29th order to find a duty is present in this case and defendant Malcolm Penney’s actions are not a supervening cause of the resulting harm to Marissa Murrow.”
Further, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued this new evidence established that intoxicated driving was foreseeable to The Springs – and its president of operations had admitted this point during testimony.
“As such, this new evidence is directly relevant to the questions of duty and supervening cause,” according to the motion to vacate or modify order. “Marissa Murrow was killed from the conduct of an intoxicated driver and this exact harm was foreseeable to defendant The Springs.
“A duty under negligence is established from these facts and defendant Malcolm Penney’s actions were not a supervening cause such that defendant The Springs is precluded from liability.”
Attorneys for The Springs on Sept. 23 filed a response and objection to the plaintiffs’ motion to vacate or modify Judge McCurdy’s order granting summary judgment.
“It is not legitimately contested that Malcolm Penney stole his wife’s car keys from her purse and later drove the car,” the response reads. “It is absolutely undisputed that Malcolm Penney drove under the influence of alcohol and is legally responsible for Marissa Murrow’s death.
“Even if The Springs was negligent in any way, the multiple intentional and criminal acts of Malcolm Penney represent a supervening and independent cause of the harm incurred. Nothing plaintiffs have presented as ‘new evidence’ changes the fact that Malcolm Penney will spend the rest of his life in jail for his choices that night.”
Malcolm Penney and his wife Amanda were listed as co-defendants in the civil suit.
The plaintiffs on Sept. 22 dismissed their claims against Malcolm and Amanda Penney with prejudice to refiling.
Amanda Penney owned the vehicle her husband was driving when he collided head-on with Marissa Murrow’s car.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol investigated the fatal crash that occurred at 12:13 a.m. Oct. 3, 2020, in eastern Canadian County.
Malcolm Penney was driving the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander northbound in the southbound lanes of the Kilpatrick Turnpike.
That vehicle struck Marissa Murrow’s southbound 2014 Ford Focus head-on and she died from her injuries.
The Mustang High School graduate was headed to her family home when she was killed.
Penney fled on foot before being found by Oklahoma City police officers and brought back to the scene, where he was identified by witnesses.
He did not call 911 and took no action to obtain emergency medical services for Murrow, who was trapped inside her wrecked vehicle.
Troopers observed several indicators that Penney was under the influence of alcohol and a blood-alcohol test showed he was driving at twice the legal limit.
Penney had four previous DUI convictions and one public drunk conviction in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana. In each DUI case, he received a suspended sentence.
In a written statement for a pre-sentence investigation report, Penney acknowledged he had gone to the wedding where he had been drinking and then drove his car.
Penney thought he was taking a turnpike on-ramp – but it was the off-ramp, according to the report.
When she was killed, Marissa Murrow was a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma studying to become a special education teacher. She was a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority.
“Marissa was not only a loving daughter and sister for her family she was a trusted friend to hundreds of people,” according to her parents’ civil suit.
Jeff and Kristy Murrow had sought to recover damages for their daughter’s personal injuries, physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of companionship, grief and sorrow, and loss of the family relationship.