In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Georgia has handed a defeat to the organizers of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, finding that the victims and their families who were impacted by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing can present their wrongful death and personal injury cases to a jury.
The plaintiffs had charged that the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games was liable for poor security that allegedly led to the explosion.
Central to the high court’s finding was its interpretation of the Recreational Property Act (OCGA § 51-3-20 et seq.), which was raised as a defense by the ACOG. The RPA typically limits the liability of an owner of land, who has made property available without charge to the public for “recreational purposes.”
In the instant case, questions surfaced about the mixed use of the park under the RPA.
“Whether the RPA applies to limit the liability of the owner of a certain property at a certain time is a question of law for the trial court,” wrote the Supreme Court. Making that determination “involves the examination and weighing of evidence in those instances in which there exist both commercial and recreational aspects to the property in issue. Where that evidence conflicts regarding the purpose of the property, it is for the fact finder to resolve the conflict.” Accord Silingo v. Village of Mukwonago, 156 Wis. 2d 536, 458 N.W.2d 379, 383 (Wis. App. 1990).
“While the moment of injury is the focus for the trial court in determining the legal applicability of the RPA, the fact finder’s role in resolving factual disputes over the property’s owner purpose in making the property available free of charge to the public may require consideration of a larger time frame,” wrote the court. “We do not agree with the Court of Appeals that it is appropriate under the facts in this case to limit the jury’s consideration to the ‘time of the explosion.’”
Atlantic Committee for the Olympic Games, Inc. v. Hawthorne et al., S.Ct.Ga., S03G1491, S03G1492, 6/29/04
Attorneys of Record: (for defendant) T. Ryan Mock, Jr., HAWKINS & PARNELL, LLP., Atlanta, GA, Dwight J. Davis, KING & SPALDING, Atlanta, GA.