Kentucky has a complex and disjointed government liability system in which the State, counties, and municipalities are each subject to different liability standards and rules. Plaintiffs with a claim against a municipality will generally fare better than plaintiffs with a claim against the State or a county government.
Kentucky broadly maintains state sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs can, however, bring certain negligence claims against the State in a special forum called the Kentucky Office of Claims and Appeals. 1
Recovery is limited to $250,000 in any single claim and $400,000 when multiple claims arise out of a single act of negligence, and plaintiffs cannot recover against the State for intentional torts. 2
Plaintiffs with claims against a county or school board are generally out of luck as the Kentucky Board of Claims Act does not waive their government immunity, and they are not covered by the statutes and case law governing municipal liability. 3
These agencies are immune from liability for actions that constitute a “government function.” 4
Claim Against a Municipality? You’re in Luck
Fortunately, cities are liable to a much greater extent than the State. Cities are generally liable for “ordinary torts” to the same extent as private people. 5
This includes liability for the intentional torts of city employees under a theory of respondeat superior. 6
There is no damage cap for claims against municipalities, but punitive damages are not allowed. 7
Municipalities must defend and indemnify employees acting within the scope of employment who cooperate with the defense and did not commit an act rising to the level of “fraud, malice, or corruption.” 8
Despite this extensive municipal liability, some immunities are preserved. The Kentucky law governing local tort liability was intended to preserve certain common law defenses to municipal liability, such as immunity for legislative and judicial functions and immunity for discretionary acts performed in good faith. 9
Government officials in Kentucky are protected by common-law official immunity that applies to “the negligent performance by a public officer or employee of (1) discretionary acts or functions, i.e., those involving the exercise of discretion and judgment, or personal deliberation, decision, and judgment; (2) in good faith; and (3) within the scope of the employee’s authority.” 11
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