A new chapter begins for the families of a June 27, 2015, drunk driving incident that took the lives of two young women and dramatically injured another.
Four years and four months later a jury has now awarded the families a combined $1,157,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The verdicts stem from a collision between a car driven by Shayna Monson and defendant Jordan Morsette. The trial included testimony that Morsette was driving his pickup at an extremely high rate of speed going the wrong way on the Bismarck Expressway in Mandan, ND.
Attorneys representing the victims and families expressed the heroism of those that had to retell their heart-wrenching stories. Jeff Weikum, attorney representing Shayna Monson, expressed his praise for the jury's efforts. "This was a difficult process for everyone. Ms. Monson and her family not only appreciate what the jurors decided, they also recognize how this will send a message of how wrong it is to do something like this to others. The jury followed the law with the precision and passion our community is known for.”
People driving from Bismarck toward Mandan across Expressway Bridge may recall seeing flowers at the first exit these past four years. A nearby business provided video footage from that night showing Morsette driving at a high rate of speed, cross into the wrong lane, stop and then dramatically speed up before crashing into the victim's sedan.
The amounts awarded for the deceased young women are provided to their families. Attorneys Tom Dickson and Chad Nodland represent the families of Abby Renschler and Taylor Goven respectively. During the trial, Dickson recalled the agonizing events leading up to and after the collision by recognizing how each parent felt hearing news of their daughter's death. "It's 4:00 AM on a Saturday morning and the doorbell rings. That is every parent's nightmare."
Abby and Taylor had been at a local sporting event, and had been planning for weeks to make sure they had a ride. Shayna was passing through Bismarck on her way from Minnesota toward her home in Dickinson. Shayna picked them up and they were headed to Taylor’s family home in Mandan to spend the night.
Morsette’s blood alcohol level was 0.295% at the time of the collision, nearly four times the legal limit. The state toxicologist who analyzed the blood sample testified the BAC level equated to sixteen drinks of alcohol at the time of the test.
“The girls were doing everything right in every way possible,” noted Nodland, going on to explain how gut-wrenching the trial had been on all parties. "So many family members, friends, and even the community are impacted by what Mr. Morsette chose to do that fateful night. Finally, even though they cannot go back to the way things were, at least they can know their voices were heard. There may be some peace knowing that."
Each attorney worked closely with a team of consultants to prepare for this monumental trial. First Court, a Mandan, ND, firm providing trial research and mediation services, assisted in bringing the matter to a satisfactory resolution for their clients. “They say practice makes perfect. The extra time spent coordinating our efforts before trial undoubtedly paid off,” noted Weikum.
Shayna with her family, and the families of Abby and Taylor, were emotional following the jury’s verdict. There can be no taking back what was done to them, but they can know the message has been heard: North Dakota will not tolerate any more drinking-related carnage.