“Today the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision in Joyce v. Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and ordered a new trial because errors in the jury instructions misstated the law and denied the people of Washington a fair trial. The decision overturns the $22.4 million jury award in this case, which has grown to more than $33 million with interest —the largest tort verdict against the state in history.
“The Supreme Court’s decision held that the department may be found liable regardless of whether there is any connection between the court-ordered conditions of supervision and the behavior resulting in injury. Under this decision, the state’s taxpayers face virtually unlimited exposure for injuries caused by offenders on supervision.
“Nothing can undo the tragic accident that took Paula Joyce’s life and the senseless loss suffered by her family.
“Despite these tragic circumstances, this decision highlights larger questions for the Legislature and the people of Washington. It places liability on DOC for the conduct of offenders that it does not have the authority to control. As a result, the scope of DOC’s liability for injuries caused by offenders vastly exceeds the legal authority to regulate the behavior of offenders.
“It is now up to the Legislature to determine how much liability the state taxpayers should bear when it comes to the actions of third parties over whom the state has little or no control.
“The Attorney General’s Office is thoroughly reviewing the opinion and discussing options with the client before determining the next steps to be taken.”
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Senior Counsel Glen Anderson, (360) 459-6600
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