Appeals court upholds dismissal of case against CCSD deputy

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled that a lawsuit a county woman has brought against Carter County and a sheriff's deputy falls under a law that protects government employees and that states her complaint was filed too late for her to receive compensation for her injuries.
   Rose F. Warnick filed the lawsuit against Carter County seeking damages for personal injuries arising out of an automobile accident involving the plaintiff and sheriff's deputy, Sgt. Keith G. Range.
   The complaint alleged that on April 14, 1997, Warnick was driving an automobile in Elizabethton when her vehicle was struck in the rear by a car owned by the county and driven by Range.
   Warnick's attorney, Thomas E. Cowan, filed an appeal of the suit with the Court of Appeals after Circuit Court Judge Jean Stanley dismissed the suit in 2002.
   The appellate court heard Warnick's appeal on Dec. 11 in Knoxville. The 3-0 ruling was issued Monday by Judge Charles D. Susano Jr., who delivered the opinion of the court, which was joined by judges Herschel P. Franks and D. Michael Swiney.
   The county had filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the complaint reflects that the plaintiff "ha(d) failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."
   The motion cited the complaint fell under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), which provides a 12-month statute of limitations for a complaint to be filed. The GTLA is designed to protect government employees such as Range.
   The appellate court's ruling reads that Warnick filed an earlier complaint against the county seeking to recover compensation for her injuries, but she voluntarily dismissed it on July 27, 2000.
   She filed a new complaint July 27, 2001, within one year of withdrawing the first complaint, but more than four years after the accident.
   Warnick's attorney argued that the complaint did not fall under the GTLA but under a separate state statute that allows punitive compensation against a sheriff's deputy by a citizen who suffers injury as a result of action or inaction by a deputy.
   Citing a previous appellate court decision and a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court, the court held that the complaint was controlled by the GTLA and supersedes the state statute of compensation for injuries due to negligence.
   The judges cited a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that held the general scope of the GTLA did not encompass "every tortuous act or omission by governmental entities or employees."
   The appellate court ruling also reads that the GTLA " ... necessarily leaves significant areas of activities either protected by immunity or subject to independent bodies of law."
   State law reads that any legal action under the GTLA must be initiated within 12 months after the cause of action arises. Stanley ruled that the complaint was time-barred by the statute of limitations, under the GTLA, according to court records.