In December, the State of Washington agreed to pay $6.5 million to the family of Paula Joyce to settle a lawsuit that asserted the state was at-fault in causing Mrs. Joyce’s death. Mrs. Joyce was killed in 1997 when a felon hit her while he was high on drugs and driving a stolen car. The felon, Vernon Valdez, was supposed to be under state supervision following convictions for assault and possession of stolen property. He had violated the terms of his release more than 100 times before killing Mrs. Joyce but his community corrections officer filed only three reports.
The settlement was the largest in state history and followed a $22.5 million jury verdict in 2000 which was vacated due to a faulty jury instruction. As part of the settlement Mrs. Joyce’s husband, Stephen, will be able to provide input to the state Department of Corrections regarding supervision of felons.
This case illustrates the power and importance of the legal system. The Joyce’s lawsuit led to better supervision of released felons by the department of corrections. The suit also led to the emergence of a new legal principle in Washington. When the case reached the Washington Supreme Court the court found that the Department of Corrections has a duty to oversee released inmates and can be liable for injuries that result when it fails in its duty.
Even when a person is uninsured there are other sources of recovery. One such source is underinsured motorist insurance. In the Joyce case insurance companies will pay $6,450,000.00 and the state’s self-insurance fund will pay the remaining $50,000.00.