On February 9, 2009, the Supreme Court of Georgia handed Rutherford & Christie partner Carrie L. Christie a victory by affirming the lower courts’ decision in favor of the firm’s client, Oxford Construction, in a negligent construction case (Bragg et. al. v. Oxford Construction Company).

Ken and Francesca Bragg sued Oxford Construction after Mrs. Bragg was involved in a serious car accident that injured both her and their two-year-old child and resulted in the stillbirth of their six-month-old fetus. The Braggs alleged that Oxford was to blame for negligent construction on the road where the accident occurred. The trial court granted summary judgment to Oxford based on Georgia’s “acceptance doctrine,” and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed.

Georgia’s acceptance doctrine provides, in part, “where a contractor who does not hold itself out as an expert in the design of work such as that involved in the controversy, performs its work without negligence, and the work is approved and accepted by the owner or the one who contracted for the work on the owner’s behalf the contractor is not liable for injuries resulting from the defective design of the work.”

Dougherty County contracted with Oxford to repave and overlay asphalt patches on a road that was owned and maintained by the County. Oxford was not responsible for, nor did it hold itself out as an expert, on the road’s design. The construction company merely followed the County’s orders, and the County accepted Oxford’s work upon completion. Oxford even observed a problem with the finished product and sought permission to attempt to remedy it, but was denied. The Court found, “Under such circumstances, liability, if any, should rest with the entity that hired Oxford.”

Opposing counsel sought to reject the established principle of law, and to propose the ad hoc invention of a new legal doctrine, merely because the acceptance doctrine itself was implicated in this case. The Court opined, “This is exactly the manner in which new law should not be created, because it is not the role of this Court to formulate new law in the abstract.”

Opposing counsel also sought to abandon the longstanding Georgia rule because certain sister states have rejected the acceptance doctrine. The Court opined, “The fact that other jurisdictions have rejected the rule, however, does not mandate that Georgia do the same,” and added, “the dissent’s attempt to create new law here is gratuitous.”

The case has since been featured in Georgia Contractor magazine; reprinted here with permission.