By Conrad Dudderar
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has affirmed a Canadian County judge’s ruling that a wedding event venue is not liable in a fatal drunk driving crash near Yukon.
Jeffrey and Kristine Murrow’s daughter Marissa, 19, was killed by a habitual drunk driving offender more than three years ago on the Kilpatrick Turnpike at S.W. 15th in eastern Canadian County.
The Mustang couple appealed to the state’s highest court seeking to overturn District Judge (ret.) Jack D. McCurdy II’s decision in a Canadian County District Court civil suit.
An Oklahoma Supreme Court mandate was issued Oct. 12 after justices voted 8-0 to affirm Judge McCurdy’s order.
“We hold that Oklahoma law does not recognize a duty on the part of a private event venue extending to third parties killed by a voluntarily intoxicated adult who attended, but was not ‘over-served’ by it,” Senior Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote.
The state Supreme Court determined the trial court “did not err in denying the parents’ motion to vacate or modify” its ruling in the Canadian County lawsuit.
Oklahoma City’s Malcolm Douglas Penney, now 42, was sentenced Feb. 1, 2022, to serve life in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and leaving the scene of a fatality accident.
Penney was intoxicated when the crash occurred shortly after midnight Oct. 3, 2020, after he had taken car keys from his ex-wife’s purse and drove her automobile the wrong direction on the Kilpatrick Turnpike. He collided head-on into Marrisa Murrow’s automobile, killing her.
Penney had drunk alcohol during a wedding and reception that he attended hours before at The Spring Events in Edmond.
Penney, who obtained alcohol by stopping at a liquor store before the event and from an ice chest brought by the groomsmen, left the event venue intoxicated.
The event venue rental contract prohibits alcohol consumption on-premises unless it is served by an approved licensed bartender.
A blood test, taken several hours later, showed Penney’s blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
Judge McCurdy on Aug. 29, 2022, filed an order granting The Springs’ motion for summary judgment in the civil case. He found the event venue was not liable under Oklahoma state law for Penney’s acts.
McCurdy, shortly before he retired in November 2022, denied the parents’ motion to vacate or modify his order.
The Murrows, through their attorneys, appealed on Dec. 9, 2022, to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
LOSS FOR WORDS
In common law, tavern owners were not held civilly liable for injuries to a third party caused by the acts of a voluntarily intoxicated person.
“This is because, as a matter of law, it was the voluntary consumption by the intoxicated person which was the proximate cause of the resulting injuries,” the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded Sept. 19 when affirming Judge McCurdy’s ruling.
“Although the Court has modified the common law in the context of dram shop liability, the modification does not extend to rental event venues when a voluntarily intoxicated adult attends an event but is not ‘over-served’ by the venue or anyone affiliated with it.”
The Murrows still contend The Springs was partially responsible for their daughter’s death because the business had a duty to prevent Penney from leaving and to enforce their policies prohibiting outside alcohol from being brought onto the premises.
Jeff Murrow said he and his wife Kristy are at a “loss for words” to describe how they feel about the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We will always believe The Springs were negligent in their duties on the night of October 2, 2020, and that they could have saved Marissa’s life if they would have enforced their policies regarding alcohol safety,” he said. “There is no question what happened that day and evening as video clearly shows no attempts to enforce their safety policies.”
A valedictorian of Mustang High School’s Class of 2019, Marissa Murrow was a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma studying to be a special education teacher.
Marissa was working in a leadership role for UCO’s Homecoming, and after an exhausting week, was driving back to her family home in Mustang to relax when she was killed.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not rule on the facts of the case or evidence of wrongdoing,” Marissa’s parents said. “Their job was to determine if The Springs owed a duty to the public (Marissa) to prevent a drunk guest from driving away and killing her.
“They ruled that current Oklahoma law does not protect Marissa nor the public from the actions or inactions of a business like The Springs, even though allowing the service and consumption of alcohol on their property is vital to the profitability of the venue. We know that this legal action would not bring Marissa back, but we believe it would have provided protection for innocent drivers in the future.”
The Murrows’ attorneys in their state Supreme Court challenge were Derrick T. DeWitt, Kenneth G. Cole, Kevin Cunningham, and William T. Milam III.
The Springs Events was represented by attorneys Michael C. Felt, Eric L. Combs and Matthew J. Becker.