Court of Appeals Hears Autry Civil Suit

By: Jon Hardison
By: Jon Hardison

The family of murdered WKU freshman Katie Autry have been fighting for more than a year to include Western Kentucky University and the Student Life Foundation as defendants in a civil suit seeking damages for alleged negligence that helped lead to Autry's death.

Autry was raped, beaten, and set on fire in her Hugh Poland Hall dorm room on May 3, 2003. In November of last year, former Circuit Judge Tom Lewis ruled WKU is protected by governmental immunity, and ruled the Student Life Foundation is immune because it acts as an extension of the university.

The SLF was set up by Western as a shell corporation to fund dorm renovations, and WKU now rents from and manages the dorms for the SLF.

Ben Crocker, the Autry family's attorney, told the 3-judge appellate panel that WKU isn't covered by immunity because running the dorms is a business, not governmental function. Crocker also said the university is acting as an extension of the SLF in this case, not the other way around.

WKU says running a dorm is an essential part of the school's central mission, and is covered by immunity. The SLF argues because it was created to finance the dorms, it is an extension of the school.

The 3-judge panel is expected to rule on the case within 4-6 weeks.

The Autry estate has filed a similar suit with the Board of Claims, which has smaller caps on monetary damages in civil cases. That case will remain on hold until the Appellate Court's ruling.


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