This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Legislative leaders approved paying $1.3 million to settle a pair of lawsuits stemming from two cars that were swallowed when a road washed out in Duchesne County in 2011, killing one passenger and injuring others.

The payout was the most allowed by state law, without explicit legislative approval.

During a sudden cloudburst, a culvert backed up along State Road 35 in Duchesne County, causing the water to wash over the road, eventually causing the road to collapse.

That night, Heidi Paulsen was traveling the road and plunged into the chasm, the front end of her car smashing into the embankment and seriously injuring her. Shortly after, Michael Barneck and his 15-year-old daughter, Justine, also plunged into the gully. Justine Barneck was killed and her father was severely injured.

A judge initially dismissed the families' wrongful death lawsuits against the state, but the Utah Supreme Court reversed the ruling and allowed them to seek damages from the Utah Department of Transportation and attorneys for the state agreed to pay the maximum allowed under the cap at the time — $648,700 in each case.

Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert, Attorney General Sean Reyes and State Auditor John Dougall all recommended that the Legislature review the state's current liability caps, which are now at $703,000, or consider doing away with the limits.

Robert Gehrke