ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Georgia Supreme Court has vacated the Court of Appeals judgment on a consolidated set of cases involving the death of a man in a construction accident and sent the cases back to the appellate court for proceedings consistent with its opinion.
The 4-3 majority opinion, released Nov. 27, was written by Justice Keith R. Blackwell and concurred in by Justices Robert Benham, Harold D. Melton, and David E. Nahmias.
Justice P. Harris Hines issued a dissent which was joined by Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein and Presiding Justice Hugh P. Thompson.
"In June 2007, a truck operated by A&G Trucking at the Airport struck and killed [Mack] Pitts, who was employed by Archer Western Contractors to work on the construction of the international terminal."
"His estate and children sued A&G Trucking for wrongful death and eventually won a $5.47 million judgment, but A&G Trucking apparently could not pay the judgment," the opinion states.
"From the inability of A&G Trucking to satisfy the judgment sprang this separate lawsuit, in which the estate and children allege that the City, Holder-Manhattan, and Archer Western-Capital owed contractual duties to ensure that A&G Trucking carried automobile liability insurance sufficient to satisfy claims up to $10 million."
The trial court ruled that Pitts was not an intended beneficiary of the contracts and awarded summary judgment to the City and contractors.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and concluded that Pitts was an intended beneficiary and that the City had breached the contracts.
The Georgia Supreme Court then took the case on appeal.
The majority opinion stated, "[T]he Court of Appeals failed to identify the specific contractual provisions of which Pitts was an intended beneficiary and the scope of his rights as an intended beneficiary under those specific provisions, and in so doing, it neglected the settled principle that a third party is entitled to enforce only those specific provisions of a contract of which he is an intended beneficiary."
"The Court of Appeals also appears to have erred in reaching its conclusion that the City breached its contract with Holder-Manhattan by failing to ensure that A&G Trucking carried automobile liability insurance up to $10 million."
"For these reasons, the decision of the Court of Appeals cannot be affirmed. As we have explained, there are important questions in these cases that the Court of Appeals never asked or fully answered ... we leave it to the Court of Appeals to supply the answers to the unanswered
questions, applying the settled principles of contract law set out in our opinion."
"I respectfully dissent because contrary to the opinion of the majority, the analysis of the Court of Appeals is neither ill-reasoned nor incomplete," responded Justice Hines.
"In sum, the focus of the majority is the found need for the resolution of questions which are irrelevant, as matters of fact or law, to the determinations necessary to decide the appeals, and thus, it inexplicably strains to return these cases to the Court of Appeals."
"It then orders that Court to reconsider the litigation in a manner consistent with the majority's opinion, which unfortunately, effectively directs the Court of Appeals to wander in the wilderness."