VENTURA : Victim's Family Can't Recover Damages

The family of a 90-year-old Ventura woman stabbed to death by a mental patient who walked out of the county hospital cannot recover damages from Ventura County or the city, a state appeals court has ruled.

The suit was filed by the husband, daughters and grandson of Velasta Johnson, who was murdered in January, 1992, by Kevin Jon Kolodziej.

In a unanimous opinion filed Tuesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed a March 24, 1993, Superior Court ruling that said Johnson's family lacked grounds for suing the government.

"We do not minimize the tragedy, which could have been avoided," the ruling said. "We simply observe that the Legislature has determined that the benefits to society from governmental immunity preclude recovery."

State law strongly shields governments and public employees from liability for the actions of escaped mental patients or addicts.

The judges quoted an earlier court decision that said, "Immunity is extended . . . because reasonable decisions as to how to control particular patients should not be chilled, at the time they are made, by the prospect of liability."

The family had sued for damages in compensation for wrongful death and the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Kolodziej was admitted to the Ventura County Medical Center on July 5, 1992 after stabbing himself. He was being treated for those wounds and for psychiatric disorders when he walked out of the hospital in his pajamas. Stopped by Ventura police, he promised to walk back to the hospital. Instead, he broke into Johnson's house and stabbed her to death with a knife he found in a pie in her kitchen.

Kolodziej was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced in October, 1992, to 16 years to life in a psychiatric prison facility.

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