JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court will consider whether a judge was wrong in finding that an insurance company was not liable for damage caused when the Grand Casino barge was torn from its moorings during Hurricane Katrina and smacked into a Biloxi beachfront home.
The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to look at an appeal from homeowner Cherri Porter, who wants her lawsuits against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company and Grand Casino heard by a Harrison County jury.
Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Gulf Coast in 2005. Mississippi casinos at that time were required to be located on the water or in coffer dams. The Grand Casino’s main barge traveled about 3,000 feet while a smaller barge went in the same direction about 4,000 feet. When they came to rest, the barges had caused significant damage to Porter’s home.
Porter argued the damage should have been covered under her all-risk homeowner’s insurance policy, which she said did not expressly exclude “barges.” When coverage was denied, Porter sued State Farm and her insurance agent in 2006. She also sued the casino for negligence.
A Harrison County judge dismissed the case in 2009 against State Farm and the insurance agent. In 2012, the judge dismissed the lawsuit against Grand Casino, finding Porter didn’t prove the casino was negligent.
The state Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s rulings last May.
In a motion to the Supreme Court, attorneys for Porter argued the lower court decision must be overturned because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a similar case in 2013.
In that case, the Supreme Court overturned a Harrison County judge’s decision that President Casino was not liable for damages when its barge broke loose during Katrina and flatted a nearby Biloxi motel. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said the owner of the President Casino owed a duty to its neighbors to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable injury in the event of a hurricane.
Porter’s attorney, James E. Renfroe, argued while the Harrison County judge did not have the benefit of that ruling, the appeals court did and it should have overturned the dismissal of the lawsuits.
Renfroe said the question of negligence by Grand Casino and ultimately whether the damage should be covered under Porter’s policy with State Farm must be settled by a jury.
State Farm said Porter’s loss was not covered because her homeowner’s policy excluded both water damage and windstorm damage.
State Farm attorney Vincent J. Castigliola Jr. said the appeals court correctly found the barge acted concurrent with the force of flood water when it struck Porter’s home.
Grand Casino attorney Kasee Sparks Heisterhagen said the appeals court found that the casino took steps to prevent foreseeable injuries in the design of its mooring system and was in compliance with the Mississippi Gaming Commission requirements.
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