A Pierce County Superior Court judge has reduced the damages in the wrongful death case brought by Susan Cox Powell’s parents on behalf of her sons.
Judith and Charles Cox alleged the state didn’t do enough to keep their 7-year-old and 5-year-old grandsons safe from their father, who killed the boys in 2012.
Jurors found the state Department of Social and Health Services negligent in July and awarded $98.5 million to the Cox family for the pain and suffering of Charlie and Braden Powell.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh reduced that by two-thirds Tuesday, to about $32.8 million.
“This becomes a very difficult decision for the court,” he said.
Rumbaugh went on to say: “It’s whether the size of the verdict in light of the evidence produced shocks the conscience of the court, and in this case it does.”
Attorneys for the state filed a motion for a new trial or an order of remittitur. It argued in part, “The jury verdict for Plaintiffs’ damages was so excessive as to be ‘flagrantly outrageous and extravagant’ on its face and so is subject to remittitur and/or new trial.”
A response filed by the Cox family’s attorneys argued in part: “The jury was conscientious, diligent and nothing in the record suggests they acted with passion or prejudice. It faithfully performed its constitutional duty in reaching a damages award; that award must be respected. The State presents no legitimate evidence or argument to vacate the verdict or grant remittitur.”
State laws says: “If the trial court shall, upon a motion for new trial, find the damages awarded by a jury to be so excessive or inadequate as unmistakably to indicate that the amount thereof must have been the result of passion or prejudice, the trial court may order a new trial or may enter an order providing for a new trial unless the party adversely affected shall consent to a reduction or increase of such verdict.”
Rumbaugh noted that passion and prejudice can be unconscious. The facts of this case, he said, are “bound to bestir passion in the hearts and minds of any rational person.”
Braden and Charlie Powell were killed by Josh Powell during a supervised visit at his Graham-area rental home. He attacked the boys with a hatchet and set fire to the house. Josh Powell also died.
He was being investigated at the time in the disappearance of his wife. Susan Cox Powell went missing from their Utah home in December 2009 and is presumed dead. After her disappearance, he moved the children to his father’s Puyallup home.
The boys were taken into protective custody after investigators searched that home for evidence in their mother’s disappearance. Investigators found pornography and other graphic images in the home, and Steven Powell, Josh Powell’s father, was later convicted of voyeurism and child pornography for photos he took of neighbor girls through their bathroom window.
The boys were placed with the Coxes, and Josh Powell rented the house in Graham.
On Feb. 5, 2012, Josh Powell locked a DSHS-contracted supervisor out of his home and killed the children.
The verdict form in July showed jurors found damages for each boy’s estate to be $57.5 million, and that they found $8.2 million of those damages for each child “proximately caused by the intentional criminal acts of Joshua Powell, and not proximately caused by the state.”
Rumbaugh’s order reduces the damages against the state from $49.2 million for each child to $16.4 million.
“The trial team will be consulting with the Cox family to decide the appropriate next steps,” attorney Ted Buck said in a statement.