The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that Anderson County is not liable for damages beyond medical costs after an inmate sustained injuries from an attack by cellmates.
Kenneth E. King, a Claxton resident, had spent the night in the Anderson County Detention Facility after being arrested on Oct. 27, 2009, for driving on a suspended license—a charge that ultimately was in error, according to the opinion and a press release posted on the state courts website Thursday. His release was ordered at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 28, but it took more than three hours for the pretrial release officer to process the paperwork.
During that time, King was severely beaten, causing permanent injuries to his eye. King sued the county seeking monetary damages for the attack, stating that Anderson County was negligent in not releasing him in a timely manner and should have known that there was a danger of him being attacked.
The court focused on the legal requirement that, in order for the county to be liable, officials had to have some type of warning that King would be attacked—that it was foreseeable.
“There is no evidence that Anderson County Detention Facility officials knew or should have known that Mr. King would become the victim of an attack by his cellmates after he was returned to his cell to await pretrial release,” Justice Cornelia A. Clark wrote in the opinion.
The opinion reversed a lower court ruling that determined 55 percent of the fault for the attack rested with Anderson County and ordered the county to pay $93,500 in nonmedical damages. The press release said the county remains liable for King’s medical costs resulting from the injuries sustained in the attack at the jail.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Gary R. Wade disagreed, deferring to the trial court’s finding that Anderson County was liable for King’s injuries, which were sustained after Anderson County officials failed to timely release him from jail.