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Judge reduces $98.5M award by two-thirds in Cox family wrongful death case

KUTV Salt Lake City logo KUTV Salt Lake City 9/16/2020 McKenzie Stauffer

A Washington state judge reduced the nearly $100 million damages award in the wrongful death case filed by Susan Cox Powell's parents on behalf of her sons. 

Caption: KUTV

Judith and Charles Cox argued the state didn't do enough to keep their 7- and 5-year-old grandsons safe from their father, Josh Powell, who killed the boys in 2012. 

Jurors found the state Department of Social Health Services negligent in July and awarded $98.5 million to the Cox family. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh reduced that by two-thirds on Tuesday, bringing the total to $32.8 million, the New Tribune in Tacoma reported

“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. 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.”

Susan Powell holding a child © Provided by KUTV Salt Lake City

The New Tribune reported the Cox family’s attorneys filed a response, arguing 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 ...”

Charlie and Braden Powell were at Josh Powell's house in 2012 when he torched the home, killing himself and the boys. At the time, Josh Powell was under investigation for the disappearance of his wife.

Susan Powell was reported missing in December 2009 when the family was living in West Valley City, Utah.

Josh Powell maintained his innocence and said he took the couple's young boys on a midnight camping trip in freezing temperatures the same night his wife disappeared.

Josh Powell eventually moved to Puyallup, Washington with his sons. They stayed with his father, Steve Powell, who was later arrested and convicted of possessing child pornography in an unrelated case. 

Susan Powell smiling for the camera © Provided by KUTV Salt Lake City

As a result of the conviction, Charlie and Braden Powell were placed in protective custody.

Police say the two boys were brought to Josh Powell's home in Pierce County by a DSHS caseworker for a supervised visit. Josh Powell reportedly locked the caseworker out of the home, killed the boys with a hatchet and then killed himself in an explosive fire that destroyed the home.

The Cox's lawsuit was thrown out in 2015, but was revived in 2019 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Stanely J. Rumbaugh scheduled the trial back in August 2019 in the Pierce County Superior Court. It originally began in February, but the proceedings were put on hold in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. 


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