DECATUR - The A&M student from Decatur lost all but her life one morning, while headed to her summer job. A DWI crash that devastated a North Texas family was not just the fault of the drunk driver. A jury decided Monday night that TxDOT and a highway contractor also share the blame, and millions of dollars in liability.
The victim, Jackie Murphree, can't walk, talk or eat because of severe brain injuries.
That same morning Betty Monroe was headed home from a night of hard drinking. She blundered onto a section of Highway 380 that was closed for construction, and broadsided Murphree.
Jurors said the drunk driver deserves 70-percent of the blame, but that TxDOT and a contractor called Site Concrete share the rest of the blame for negligence.
"What we're looking at here is foresight," says Jackie's father, Patrick Murphree. "What should have been done to keep things from progressing to this point."
Jurors decided there should have been more safety precautions like barrels, barricades and markers that might have kept Betty Monroe from getting onto the closed pavement. A Wise County jury awarded Jackie's family a total of $23.5 million.
Her father says any money recovered will help pay for his daughter's future care, which she requires round the clock. Patrick Murphree quit his job to care for Jackie. He says, "It might mean whenever we're gone, her level of care is maintained."
But the fact is, Betty Monroe can't pay, TxDOT has immunity and attorneys aren't sure how much might be recoverable from the contractor. Even if the verdict turns out to be largely symbolic, even if the Murphrees get only a fraction of the award, Jackie's father says the jury's decision is still important.
"The fact that the contractor and TxDOT were held responsible is a big thing," he says. " A big thing."
He says the jury's verdict will make contractors more careful in the future, even though it's too late for Jackie Murphree's future.