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Appeals court reinstates $98M verdict awarded to Susan Cox Powell’s parents

Apr 18, 2023, 1:58 PM | Updated: 3:05 pm

FILE: Chuck and Judy Cox. (Pat Reavy/KSL)...

FILE: Chuck and Judy Cox. (Pat Reavy/KSL)

(Pat Reavy/KSL)

TACOMA, Wash. — The $98.5 million verdict a jury awarded to the parents of Susan Cox Powell in 2020 has been reinstated by a Washington appeals court.

Chuck and Judy Cox sued the state of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services in 2013, following the Feb. 5, 2012, murder-suicide involving their son-in-law, Josh Powell, and their grandchildren, Charlie and Braden Powell.

Social worker Elizabeth Hall arrived with the boys for a court-authorized supervised visit with their father that day at a home he had rented. A Washington judge had previously ordered Powell be granted supervised visitation rights with his sons.

Hall said Powell slammed the front door of the home after the boys entered and locked her out. She called 911 but before police could arrive, the house burst into flames. Firefighters would later find the boys’ bodies just feet inside the front door.

The civil suit accused the department social workers of negligence in their handling of the Powell children during the visit.

Following a weekslong trial that started in February 2020 but was delayed for months by the COVID-19 pandemic, the jury ruled unanimously that the state agency had acted negligently and awarded the Coxes $98.5 million.

Weeks after the trial, attorneys for the state filed a motion requesting a new trial or a reduction in the damages. During a September 2020 hearing for that request, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh said it was clear to him that the graphic nature of the killings had played into the jury’s decision.

“These were extreme and inflammatory facts that related to the killings of these boys,” Rumbaugh said. “They’re bound to bestir passion in the hearts and minds of any rational person.”

Rumbaugh said his conscious was “shocked” by the verdict size before he cut the jury’s award to $32.8 million. Or, he said, the parties could retry the case.

That decision was then appealed.

The latest ruling, issued Tuesday morning by Division II of the Washington State Court of Appeals, upheld the jury’s original decision and reinstated the jury’s damage award in full.

Susan Powell disappeared from the couple’s home in West Valley City on Dec. 7, 2009. Investigators believe she is dead but her body has never been located. Josh Powell was never arrested or formally charged with a crime related to his wife’s disappearance.

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Appeals court reinstates $98M verdict awarded to Susan Cox Powell’s parents