A Burleigh County jury has awarded more than $1 billion in total damages to a survivor and families of two women killed in a 2015 drunken driving crash in Mandan.
Jurors on Friday reached verdicts on two types of damages in the 2016 lawsuit. The jury awarded $295 million in punitive damages each to Shayna Monson, who survived the crash but suffered a traumatic brain injury, and to family of 22-year-old Abby Renschler and 21-year-old Taylor Goven, both of whom died in the crash.
The jury also awarded compensatory damages totaling $170 million to Monson and $36 million each to the families of the two women who died, all with 6% interest.
Punitive damages are awarded as punishment; compensatory damages are meant to cover losses.
Monson was the only victim to survive the June 27, 2015, crash. Jordan Morsette, now 32, slammed head-on into Monson's car at the McKenzie Drive exit on the Bismarck Expressway, killing Monson's two passengers.
Attorney Chad Nodland, who represented Goven's family, said the punitive damages are representative of Morsette's blood alcohol content the night of the crash: 0.295%, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08%.
"These were three awesome young women," Nodland said. "And they had these bright futures ahead of them, and their families are pretty devastated, and so it was kind of nice to have some validation for the pain that they've gone through."
Morsette's attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the verdicts. It's unclear if Morsette will appeal. He is in prison and did not attend the two-day trial.
Monson's attorney, Jeff Weikum, told the Tribune that the verdicts are a validation "of how we in North Dakota value people’s lives and value the ability to live life in a healthy way."
"The jury listened to the families and to Shayna Monson and confirmed just exactly what they’ve been living with for the last four years, four months and four days and what they’re going to live with for the rest of their lives," he said.
Attorney Tom Dickson, who represented Renschler's family, called the verdicts "appropriate" and "a message to everybody" about the value of human life.
"We asked the jury to value what's the most important thing in North Dakota, and that's the lives of our young people, and they did that and they did that appropriately," Dickson said. "These were three beautiful young women whose lives were devastated that night on the Bismarck Expressway."
Morsette, who had a previous DUI conviction, pleaded guilty in 2016 to two counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of criminal vehicular injury. He was sentenced and is incarcerated at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck, with an estimated release date in 2036.
Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.