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The Georgia Supreme Court has kept alive 37 plaintiffs’ claims against the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for injuries and wrongful death in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. In a decision issued Monday in two related cases, the justices sent two suits against ACOG back to Senior State Court Judge Charles L. Carnes for reconsideration in light of new guidelines the court adopted. Carnes had previously dismissed the cases on summary judgment. The Supreme Court upheld Carnes’ ruling granting summary judgment to ACOG’s director of security, William Rathburn; AT&T Corp., which operated a sound and light tower next to the bomb site; and two security companies. Anderson v. Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, No. S00A0899, Anderson v. AT&T Corp., S00A0901, Hawthorne v. Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, No. S00A1069 (Sup. Ct. Ga. Oct. 23, 2000). The suits sought to recover for injuries and, in the case of the family of Alice Hawthorne, for wrongful death, in connection with the pipe bomb that exploded in the park July 27, 1996. Hawthorne was killed and more than 100 people were injured by shrapnel. IMMUNITY CLAIMED ACOG claimed immunity under a state law that limits liability for property owners who make their land available free of charge for recreational use by the public. Carnes agreed, finding that the state’s Recreational Property Act, O.C.G.A. 51-3-20, insulated ACOG and the other defendants from liability. At oral arguments before the justices in June, plaintiffs’ lawyer and former Georgia Supreme Court justice Hardy Gregory Jr. argued that the RPA shouldn’t apply because Centennial Olympic Park was intended for business, not recreation. But ACOG’s lawyer T. Ryan Mock of Atlanta’s Hawkins & Parnell argued that the bombing occurred in a public area set aside for recreation and the RPA should apply. In this week’s decision, the justices addressed Carnes’ application of the RPA to the claims against ACOG. Writing for the court, Justice Carol W. Hunstein noted that Carnes had relied on two cases involving personal injury claims against Stone Mountain Park. In Quick v. Stone Mountain Memorial Assoc. 204 Ga. App. 598 (1992) and Hogue v. Stone Mountain Memorial Assoc., 183 Ga. App. 378 (1987), the Georgia Court of Appeals concluded that Stone Mountain Park was a public recreation area, although the park sold permits, concessions and tickets. The RPA may apply in mixed-use instances, meaning instances where commercial interests are mixed with recreational activities, Hunstein wrote. The important criterion, she added, is the purpose for which the public is allowed on the property. If the public is allowed on the property in order to boost the landowner’s business interests, the RPA will not apply, even though the public also may benefit recreationally, Hunstein wrote. On the other hand, a profit motive does not necessarily mean the event is primarily commercial, rather than recreational, she continued. Profits that pay for property maintenance or for public services are not profits in the usual commercial sense, she wrote. Prior Georgia case law provided little guidance for determining applicability of the RPA in mixed-use cases such as the Centennial Olympic Park case, Hunstein wrote. WISCONSIN CASE But a 1990 Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision formulated a test for such cases, she continued, and should be adopted as Georgia’s standard. In Silingo v. Village of Mukwonago, 458 NW2d 379 (Wis.App. 1990), that court formulated a balancing test that involves examining all social and economic aspects of the activity, including “the intrinsic nature of the activity, the type of service or commodity offered to the public, and the activity’s purpose and consequence.” Because the justices could not determine if Carnes had considered all those factors, Hunstein wrote, his grant of summary judgment must be reversed and remanded for reconsideration. The justices also found that the two security companies, Borg-Warner and Anthony Davis Inc. owed no duty to the plaintiffs under their contracts with ACOG and AT&T, respectively. Finally, the court concluded that AT&T was not liable because it was neither an owner nor an occupier of the property where the bomb exploded. Justice George H. Carley dissented to the majority’s affirming the grant of summary judgment to the security companies. Plaintiffs’ lawyer James N. Sadd of Atlanta’s Slappey & Sadd says he’s delighted the cases are back in court, and is confident the plaintiffs can establish that the Olympic Park was not a recreational property “under any test.” Mock says he was surprised the court announced a new test but believes ACOG can establish it is entitled to summary judgment under the new standard.

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