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Waiver of Immunity Must Be Proven

July 31, 2017

          Waiver of sovereign immunity in Georgia is limited at the county level to the limit of insurance for claims of injury related to use of a motor vehicle.  Cases over the past twenty five years have wrestled with what actions involve “use” of a motor vehicle and what qualifies as a “motor vehicle.”  The Georgia Court of Appeals recently penned a twist on this analysis and reversed the denial of a judgment on the pleadings to Columbus Consolidated Government (“Columbus”).  In October 2011, an inmate, Franklin Woody (“Woody”), was welding a dump truck which was not in use, when the sparks caught his jumpsuit on fire.  Woody was burned and brought suit against Columbus for his injuries.  As referenced above, under O.C.G.A. §33-24-51(a), a local government may waive its immunity for injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, operation, or use of a motor vehicle by purchasing liability insurance greater than the amount required under O.C.G.A. §36-92-2.  The Court of Appeals held that the facts did not support a claim for “use” of a motor vehicle as required under O.C.G.A. §36-92-2 and ruled Columbus was entitled to judgment on the pleadings.  This case creates an arguable inconsistency with previous rulings of the court. See McDuffie v. Coweta County, 299 Ga.App. 500 (2009) (court construed insurance policy which extended coverage for "ownership, maintenance, use, or operation of any auto”) .

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