Kentucky’s Tort Claim Law Does Not Obligate Employers To Provide Defenses To Former Employees

Kristy Richardson was a police officer with the City of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1997, Richardson became a member of the Metro Narcotics Unit, a joint unit of the Louisville and Jefferson County Police Departments. In March 2002, she was indicted on hundreds of felony counts based on her activities while serving as an officer of the Narcotics Unit. It was alleged that Richardson fabricated information in order to obtain search warrants, tampered with drug evidence, forged judges’ signatures on search warrants, and appropriated cash intended for payment for drug buys to paid informants. At a jury trial held in early 2003, Richardson was convicted of numerous counts of official misconduct, criminal possession of forged instruments, and tampering with public records.

Shortly after her indictment, Richardson resigned her position with the Police Department. Several weeks later, she was named as a defendant in a class action filed by numerous citizens against the City of Louisville, the Jefferson County Chief of Police, and Richardson’s partner in the Narcotics Unit. When the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government (the two police agencies had subsequently consolidated) refused to defend or indemnify Richardson, she appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

The Court ruled that former employees such as Richardson were not entitled to the protections of Kentucky’s tort claim laws. The Court found that under the precise wording of the statutes, only an “employee” was covered by the protections of the law. This meant, the Court reasoned, that individuals who were no longer employed at the time a tort claim was made were not covered by the tort claims law.

The Court acknowledged that there was a distinction “between statutes broadly provided for the protection for both employees and former employees versus those providing a more limited benefit to employees only. While requiring Metro Government to provide Richardson a defense under these circumstances is not inconsistent with the objectives of the statute, it is not unreasonable to exclude her from its benefits since she was not still serving as a public employee when the civil rights actions were filed against her. Where a statute is unambiguous, there is no need to refer to extrinsic evidence of legislative intent or some public policy that the statute is intended to effect.”

Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government v. Richardson, 2006 WL 505050 (Ky.App. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue