September 30, 2020 – Georgia Watch filed an amicus brief yesterday in support of the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Henry v. Atlanta Gas Light Company, a case pending before the Georgia Supreme Court. At issue in the case is whether Atlanta Gas Light Company (AGLC) had actual knowledge of a dangerous and defective condition relating to a furnace and flex connector that ruptured, leading to an explosion on June 12, 2016. The explosion resulted in the tragic death of the Plaintiff’s mother and disabled brother. Georgia Watch was represented in this matter by pro bono counsel, Barnes Law Group, LLC.
AGLC provides natural gas to over 1.6 million households in Georgia. The brief raises the concern that the Court of Appeals Opinion will incentivize AGLC to maintain turn-on policies that maximize profits at the expense of public safety—an issue which is of paramount importance to Georgia Watch.
Since AGLC has many customers in the state, the company has a duty to exercise reasonable care when it is aware of potential dangers on residential gas systems. With the company’s vast resources, it had multiple options available to prevent the explosion. We argue AGLC should not have immunity since their field specialist turned on the gas meter at a house with an already known risk of explosion. On top of the action, the risk itself was not communicated to the customer. The brief states that a jury can and should find that AGLC’s conduct fails to satisfy or meet the standard of care.
AGLC had a duty to protect everyone at Plaintiffs’ residence once it had knowledge of the hazardous flex fuel connector that caused the explosion. On this issue, the brief notes that the Court of Appeals failed to review the evidence in light most favorable to Plaintiff, as required on summary judgment.
The definition of “hazard” plays a role in the suit. The Court of Appeals’ Opinion assumed there was only one way of defining “hazard” of which AGLC had actual notice. The Opinion narrowly defined “hazard” as the failure of the previous HVAC company to properly repair the flex fuel line left uncorrected by AGLC. This narrow definition would insulate AGLC from liability and would impose a dangerous precedent in the state.
In conclusion, the brief argues the public would be better protected if AGLC was not immunized for failing to repair known dangers on residential gas systems, failing to require a reinspection, and failing to require the homeowner or residents be present during its inspection. Alternately, if those are unavailable, then AGLC should shut off the gas until the company is satisfied the dangers have been repaired. Other jurisdictions recognize such a rule and use it as precedent, so Georgia should do the same.
Read the full amicus brief here.