Supreme Court Says Anderson County Jail Not Responsible for Attack on Inmate

November 21, 2013

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 had spent the night in the Anderson County Detention Facility after being arrested for driving on a suspended license – a charge that ultimately was in error. His release was ordered at 11:30 a.m., but it took more than three hours for the pretrial release officer to process the paperwork. During that time, Mr. King was severely beaten, causing permanent injuries to his eye.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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,” wrote Justice Cornelia A. Clark in the Opinion.

The Opinion reverses a lower court ruling that determined 55% of the fault for the attack rested with Anderson County and ordered the county to pay $93,500 in nonmedical damages. The county remains liable for Mr. 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 Mr. King’s injuries, which were sustained after Anderson County officials failed to timely release him from jail. 

To read the majority opinion in Kenneth E. King v. Anderson County, authored by Justice Clark, and the dissent by Chief Justice Wade, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.