On Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the city’s request to appeal a 2010 ruling by Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. that denied it protection from the lawsuit under the legal principle of sovereign immunity.
The suit was filed by the families of the couple, who died less than a month after a city electrical inspector approved reconnecting electricity to their home.
Ryan Holt, 19, and Michelle Borror, 20, died Aug. 22, 2006, when a fire broke out in their kitchen during the night. They had moved into a 37-year-old rental mobile home Aug. 1 after the city’s chief electrical inspector, Lewis Vann, reported finding the trailer suitable for electrical service.
Georgia Power, which was also named as a defendant in the families’ lawsuit, settled out of court, as did one of two landlords.
The city legal bills had already topped $500,000 before the Augusta Commission voted to appeal, first to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where it lost last year, and then to the Georgia Supreme Court. The city can now ask the U.S. Supreme Court fowr permission to appeal, reach a settlement with the families or go to trial in Columbia County Superior Court, where the lawsuit was filed because one of the landowners is a resident of that county.
In court, the city has claimed that Vann, who never went into the couple’s trailer, didn’t have to enter the home to do a proper inspection and that there is no way to determine what caused the fire.
The plaintiffs contend that the professional standards and the city code required an in-house inspection to ensure the presence of working smoke detectors and no obvious signs of potential fire hazards.
In his order denying the city’s claim of sovereign immunity, Brown wrote that there are facts that a jury should decide.