Atlanta, GA - (WALB) The GA supreme court ruled that Dougherty County Police officers Jeremiah Fenn and Oscar Gilliam cannot be held liable for the death of Milton Wilcox on Interstate 16 in Candler County in 2007.
Here is a summary of the opinion from the Georgia Supreme Court-
WILCOX ET AL. V. FENN ET AL. (S11A1102)
The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled in favor of two Dougherty County police officers who had been sued by a couple who claimed they caused the car wreck that killed their son.
In today‟s unanimous opinion, written by Justice Harold Melton, the high court has upheld the constitutionality of a state law that granted immunity to the officers.
According to briefs filed in the case, in April 2007, William Wilcox and his son, Milton, were driving east on Interstate 16 in Candler County. Wilcox was driving a Toyota 4Runner at or below the speed limit. Dougherty officers Jeremiah Fenn and Oscar Gilliam were also driving east on I-16 in separate marked police cars on their way to Savannah to participate in a joint law enforcement operation.
While Wilcox was driving in the left lane, Gilliam passed him on the right. Shortly after, Fenn‟s vehicle struck Wilcox from behind, causing Wilcox to lose control and roll several times. Wilcox was severely injured and his son was killed.
In June 2009, Wilcox and his wife sued the officers for negligence. They filed two motions – one requesting "summary judgment" that the officers were liable and the other challenging the constitutionality of Official Code of Georgia § 36-92-3, which says that any local government employee who commits a "tort" or wrongdoing "involving the use of a covered motor vehicle while in the performance of his or her official duties is not subject to lawsuit or liability therefor."
(A "summary judgment" is a ruling made by the judge without a jury trial when the facts of a case are undisputed and the law is clearly on one party‟s side.) Fenn and Gilliam then filed their own motion for summary judgment arguing they were immune under the statute. In February 2011, the judge granted the officers‟ motion and denied Wilcox‟s.
On appeal, the Wilcox‟s argued the statute is unconstitutional because it is not part of the Georgia Tort Claims Act, and "the Legislature‟s authority to waive the immunity of county officials such as Fenn and Gilliam was strictly limited to a State Tort Claims Act.‟"
But in today‟s unanimous opinion, the high court disagrees, finding that "simply because the Legislature chose not to extend immunity to counties and their employees in the [Georgia Tort Claims Act] does not mean that it could not do so elsewhere,…"
"It is evident, then, that the Legislature had constitutional authority to enact § 36-92-3," today‟s opinion says. Therefore, "we find that the trial court properly denied Wilcox‟s claim that § 36-92-3 is unconstitutional and properly granted summary judgment in favor of Fenn and Gilliam."
Attorney for Appellants (Wilcox): Gary Gerrard
Attorneys for Appellees (Fenn): Theodore Freeman, Sun Choy, Jacob Daly
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