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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Victims of Olympic Park Bombing Can Sue: In an opinion issued yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) can be sued by victims of the 1996 Olympic Park bombing. The trial court granted summary judgment for ACOG and against the victims, who claim that lax security allowed the bombing to take place. A state appellate court reversed, stating that the determination should be made by a jury, and not a judge. The state high court upheld the reversal:
[T]he [Recreational Property Act] limits, with certain exceptions, the liability of an owner of land who has made property available without charge to the public for
"recreational purposes". . . . [The court uses] a balancing test to determine when mixed-use property is used for "recreational purposes" so as to come within the RPA.
The court held that it should be the fact finder, and not the trial court, that evaluates this balancing test, because of the highly fact-specific nature of the test. Thus, the jury must decide whether or not ACOG's purpose in opening Centennial Park to the public during the Olympic Games.
In addition, the court ruled that in determining ACOG's purpose, the fact finder should consider a broader time frame than just the time of the injury.
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 owner's purpose in making the property available free of charge to the public may require consideration of a larger time frame. Thus, 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." Rather, we agree with ACOG that upon remand of this case the jury may consider evidence of ACOG's purpose in regard to the locus delicti as demonstrated before, during and after the bombing to the extent that evidence may help the jury to determine the purpose why the public was allowed free of charge into the Park "as it existed during the Olympics, and most pertinently, on the date the bomb exploded in the Park."
It now will be for a jury to decide if ACOG should fall under the RPA and escape liability. Plaintiffs with argue that ACOG kept the park open at no charge to increase traffic, and with it, increase sales of food, souvenirs, tickets and anything else that could be sold. This seems distinct from a traditional public park, which is kept open for the convenience and benefit of the community. If ACOG thought it would have been more profitable to charge admission, it may well have done so. And if the organization indeed did not provide enough security based on the number of people, then perhaps it shares in the liability.
On the other hand, the Olympic Games are traditionally a celebration of humanity and the world coming together. ACOG can convincingly argue that its purpose in holding the park open was to embrace this spirit and make the park available for the world community. This could be a winning argument, but now it is up to a jury to decide.
The whole opinion can be read here.