Ft. Oglethorpe v. Phillips

Decision Date12 November 1968
Docket NumberNo. 24819,24819
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

John E. Wiggins, for appellant.

Frank Gleason, Broadus McAfee, for appellee.

Henry L. Bowden, James T. McIntyre, Jr., Martin McFarland, for party at interest not party to record.

Almand, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur. OPINION

Alvin Doyle Phillips, Jr., a minor, by his father and next friend brought an action seeking to recover damages for personal injuries against Earl and Sylvia Hamilton, owner and driver respectively of an automobile with which plaintiff had an intersection collision while riding on a motorbike, and the Town of Fort Oglethorpe wherein the collision occurred. Plaintiff in his petition alleged that: The Town of Fort Oglethorpe maintains and operates a traffic control light at the intersection where the collision took place. On the date of the collision and for two weeks beforehand, the Mayor, Chief of Police and Aldermen of Fort Oglethorpe had knowledge that this traffic light was not working correctly and failed to correct it. This traffic light was defective in that it would flash either red or green on all four sides of the intersection simultaneously. Numerous accidents resulted from the defective condition of the traffic light, and on the day the plaintiff was injured there were six collisions at this crowded intersection because the defective traffic light flashed green in all directions causing approaching vehicles to collide. The mayor and chief of police knew of these six collisions that took place on the same day the plaintiff was injured and did not repair the defective traffic light. Through the negligent acts of the Town of Fort Oglethorpe a traffic hazard was created obstructing the intersection and producing a condition injurious to the plaintiff. The Town of Fort Oglethorpe's negligent and careless operation of the traffic light at the intersection in question constituted a nuisance in that it "interfered with the orderly and safe operation of vehicles and caused an obstruction of the street" thereby rendering the street not reasonably safe for use. This hazardous condition created by the Town of Fort Oglethorpe's negligence and the negligence of defendant Sylvia Hamilton concurred in causing the plaintiff's injury.

The Town of Fort Oglethorpe filed a general demurrer to the plaintiff's petition. After hearing argument of counsel of the parties, the trial court sustained the municipality's demurrer and dismissed the petition as to the Town of Fort Oglethorpe. Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals which reversed the trial court by holding (with four Judges dissenting) that: "An action in tort will lie against a municipality which, with knowledge of the facts, maintains a defective traffic light at an intersection which periodically shows the green or 'go' signal in all four directions simultaneously, resulting in injury to the plaintiff by collision with an automobile approaching at right angles, both entering the intersection as a result of the faulty signal, since its maintenance in this condition renders the street not reasonably safe for use." (Emphasis supplied.) Phillips v. Town of Fort Oglethorpe, 118 Ga. App. 62 (162 SE2d 771).

The Town of Fort Oglethorpe made an application to this court for the writ of certiorari which was granted.

The Court of Appeals regarded the main issue in the case as being "whether the maintenance of a defective traffic light by the city, with knowledge of the defect, in such manner as to cause automobiles relying upon it to collide with each other constitutes negligence in the exercise of a governmental or ministerial function." Certainly, we view this issue as being one of the decisive questions in this case; however, we would arrive at a different conclusion from that drawn by the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals took the position that the maintenance of a traffic light is a ministerial function and that the failure to properly maintain a traffic light creates a defect or obstruction in the street in violation of Code § 69-303. With these conclusions we cannot agree.

The general rule is that in the maintenance and operation of a traffic light system a city functions in a governmental capacity, thereby relieving the city of liability for failure to keep traffic lights functioning properly. 18 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3rd Ed. revised) p. 234, § 53.42. See 63 CJS 91, Municipal Corporations, § 782. See also Dorminey v. City of Montgomery, 232 Ala. 47 (166 S 689); Avey v. City of West Palm Beach, 152 Fla. 717 (12 S2d 881); Auslander v. City of St. Louis, 332 Mo. 145 (56 SW2d 778); Powell v. City of Nashville, 167 Tenn. 334 (69 SW2d 894); Sandmann v. Sheehan, 279 Ky. 614 (131 SW2d 484); Martin v. City of Canton, 41 Ohio App. 420 (180 NE 78); Parsons v. City of New York, 273 N. Y. 547 (7 NE2d 685) and Vickers v. City of Camden, 122 N. J. L. 14 (3 A2d 613). Furthermore, in Arthur v. City of Albany, 98 Ga. App. 746, 747 (106 SE2d 347), it was expressly held: "The operation and maintenance of traffic lights and other traffic control devices is a governmental function conducted on behalf of the public safety and for the negligent performance of which municipal corporations are not liable." Very similar language appears in Stanley v. City of Macon, 95 Ga. App. 108 (1) (97 SE2d 330). See City of Rome v. Potts, 45 Ga. App. 406, 410 (165 SE 131). We are of the opinion that the maintenance and operation of the traffic light by the Town of Fort Oglethorpe is a governmental function and the municipality is not liable for negligent performance.

Secondly, we are of the opinion that the improper operation of a traffic light by a municipality is not such a defect or obstruction of the streets as to bring this function within the scope of Code § 69-303, which would result in this function becoming ministerial. In Arthur v. City of Albany, 98 Ga. App. 746, 747, supra, it was held that the municipality's maintenance of traffic control devices is "not related to the maintenance of the streets as such, and liability of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
77 cases
  • Beasley v. Ga. Dep't of Corr.
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 22, 2021
    ...context under certain circumstances. See Gatto , ––– Ga. at –––– – ––––, 860 S.E.2d 713, 718-19 (discussing Town of Ft. Oglethorpe v. Phillips , 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141 (1968) and its "expansive effect on the municipal nuisance doctrine" (emphasis added)); id. , at 15, ––– Ga. at ––––, ......
  • Johnson v. 3M
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia
    • September 20, 2021
    ...with its maintenance of a bridge adjacent to plaintiff's property).In 1968, the Georgia Supreme Court, in Town of Fort Oglethorpe v. Phillips , 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141 (1968), expanded municipal nuisance liability to situations involving personal injury that did not involve any correspo......
  • Li v. Feldt
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • November 1, 1991
    ...Torts, 2d, Sec. 821B, comment d, p. 89. See also Burford, nn. 7 and 18 supra, and the holding of Ft. Oglethorpe v. Phillips, 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141, 34 A.L.R.3d 1002 (1968), discussed in n. 37 36 In Renstrom v. City of Nampa, 48 Idaho 130, 133, 279 P. 614 (1929), the city was held subj......
  • Gatto v. City of Statesboro
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • June 21, 2021
    ...omitted)). This limitation on the nuisance doctrine was, however, apparently abandoned in the case of Town of Fort Oglethorpe v. Phillips , 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141 (1968), which one commentator has described as "legendary" because of its expansive effect on the municipal nuisance doctri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Local Government Law
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 67-1, September 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...of Powder Springs v. NMM Props., Inc., 253 Ga. 753, 756-57, 325 S.E.2d 155, 158 (1985)).10. Id.11. Town of Fort Oglethorpe v. Phillips, 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141 (1968).12. Stiles Apartments, 295 Ga. at 833, 764 S.E.2d at 408 (citing Phillips, 224 Ga. at 837, 165 S.E.2d at 143-44).13. Id.......
  • Local Government
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 74-1, September 2022
    • Invalid date
    ...nomenclature, the analysis falls within the broader principle of sovereign immunity.5. Gatto, 312 Ga. at 164, 860 S.E.2d at 715.6. 224 Ga. 834, 165 S.E.2d 141 (1968).7. Gatto, 312 Ga. at 170, 860 S.E.2d at 719.8. Id. at 173, 860 S.E.2d at 720.9. Id. at 174, 860 S.E.2d at 721. 10. Id.11. Id.......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT