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For the second time, a Fulton County, Ga., judge has found that state law insulates the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for liability in connection with the 1996 bombing of Centennial Olympic Park. Senior State Court Judge Charles L. Carnes, as he did in 1999, granted summary judgment to ACOG in two suits filed on behalf of the estate of a woman killed and others who were injured in the blast. Ruling from the bench after more than four hours of argument Friday, Carnes found that ACOG was covered by the Recreational Property Act, which limits liability for property owners who make their land available free of charge for recreational use by the public. But Carnes denied another defense motion for summary judgment. ACOG had argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t show that any alleged negligence on ACOG’s part was the proximate cause of their injuries. Although the plaintiffs won on that score, should the Georgia Supreme Court uphold Carnes’ RPA ruling, it would effectively gut most of their claims. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in both cases argued to Carnes that the park was a money-making vehicle for ACOG and that the RPA doesn’t apply. ACOG, argued plaintiffs’ attorney James N. Sadd, was a “huge corporation” that generated $1.7 billion from hosting the Olympics. The purpose of the park, Sadd told Carnes, was commercial in nature, as evidenced by the vending opportunities everywhere, the Olympics souvenirs superstore, and such vendors as Budweiser and Swatch. It was, Sadd argued, “a corporate carnival.” Gilbert Deitch, plaintiffs’ counsel in another suit, told Carnes that if he found any evidence of commercial activity, he must deny summary judgment and let a jury decide if the RPA would apply. But ACOG’s lead attorney, T. Ryan Mock of Atlanta-based Hawkins & Parnell, argued that Carnes should make that decision. HIGH COURT APPLIES TEST Carnes had done just that in 1999, ruling that the RPA applied and granting summary judgment to ACOG. But the Georgia Supreme Court, in Anderson v. Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, 273 Ga. 113 (2000), sent the cases back for Carnes to apply a new test the justices had adopted. That test requires examination of all social and economic aspects of the activity for which the Olympic Park was used, including the nature of activities that occurred in the park, the type of service or commodity offered to the public, and the activities’ purpose or consequence. ACOG, Mock said, was a nonprofit corporation and lost $8.76 million by providing the park. The only purpose of the revenue generated by vending in the park was to defray operating costs, he said, adding that the park was never expected to make a profit. “It was there for pure recreation,” he said. ACOG had also sought summary judgment on the issue of negligence, arguing that the plaintiffs had not proved that anything ACOG did was the proximate cause of their injuries. The plaintiffs had claimed ACOG was negligent in not providing metal detectors and bag searches at the park entrances, not providing bomb-sniffing dogs to sweep the park, not having a bomb disposal team stationed at the park, and failing to warn and evacuate park visitors promptly once the bomb was spotted. The Atlanta games were twice as large as any previous summer games, Sadd told Carnes, “far too big to manage,” especially from a security standpoint. ACOG’s quest to make the Games the biggest and most profitable ever created “an unmanageable, undo-able set of circumstances for security,” Sadd argued. At the same time, ACOG knew that the Olympics attracted terrorism, he said. The park, he added, was the “softest target” for such an attack. ACOG decided not to install metal detectors at the public portals to the park, and did not have enough security personnel present, Sadd said. Nor did ACOG assist law enforcement in evacuating the area promptly when the bomb was spotted, he said. Instead, ACOG had packed the park so full of spectators that state troopers couldn’t move them far enough away from the blast, he added. CLAIMS CALLED ONLY SPECULATION Mock, however, countered that the plaintiffs’ claims that ACOG was negligent in its security measures were nothing but speculation, and speculation couldn’t be used to show proximate cause. The bomb was detected, Mock said, and it was speculation to say a dog might have detected it sooner since no one knew how long it had been there. And bomb disposal is a job for law enforcement, not ACOG, he said. Law enforcement and security guard Richard Jewell, who discovered the bomb in a knapsack, cleared people out of the area as best they could, Mock said. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had hoped to defer the proximate cause issue because, they said, they had been unable so far to get information from federal authorities still investigating the bombing. Eric Robert Rudolph has been indicted for placing the bomb in the park, but so far, has evaded capture. Plaintiffs’ attorney Deitch said he believed the FBI knew how the bomb got in the park. But the agency wasn’t willing to share that and other information in its possession, he said. Mock said he doubted the FBI knew how the bomb got in the park, but even if the agency did, it probably wouldn’t release that information until Rudolph was found and prosecuted. DEFENDANT ‘FOR ETERNITY’ Rudolph, he said, “may be dead in the mountains [of North Carolina]” or may never be found. “ My client may have to remain a defendant in a lawsuit for eternity.” The case, he insisted, should move forward, particularly since there’s no proof that the FBI has relevant information. “It’s time to move on.” “I believe it is,” Carnes said. “I can’t hold a case open forever.” In his RPA ruling, Carnes said he concluded that the park was primarily a place of recreation and that profits it generated were used to maintain it. The judge said he based his denial of summary judgment on the negligence issue on evidence in the record that: ACOG had installed metal detectors in other venues, but not in the park; the crowd in the park may have been too large; and a plaintiffs’ expert’s opinion that the park, with its easy accessibility, was an obvious target for a terrorist attack. Both rulings are expected to be appealed.

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