A ruling in favor of Grand Casino regarding damage sustained to the Biloxi Schooner Pier by Hurricane Katrina has been reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The case will be returned to the Circuit Court so that Borries Construction Co.’s claim of negligence on the part of Grand Casino in mooring its barge can go to trial, according to the Sun Herald.
The pier Borries was building was nearly finished in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit and one of the Grand’s two casino barges slammed into it. The third-party damage wasn’t covered by company owner Kenny Borries’ insurance. Because the casino wouldn’t reimburse Borries for the damage, he filed a lawsuit. The $1.5 million being sought in the lawsuit includes demolition and cleanup costs resulting from the hurricane, monies invested by Borries for pier construction, and business lost by the owner when he was unable to take other work on while he rebuilt the pier.
It was the claim of Grad Casino that its gambling barge was properly moored and Hurricane Katrina was unavoidable and an act of God. Two of Borries experts offered testimony that the mooring system of the casino was designed to hold up to a 15-foot storm instead of historical surges that were higher. Borries experts said that had the system been designed to withstand the surge from Hurricane Camille in 1969, the Grand’s two barges wouldn’t have dislodged. Experts of the Grand’s testified that in compliance with height regulations set by the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the casino’s mooring systems could withstand surges of at least 15 feet. One expert said that the surges in the area of the casino were a minimum of 24 feet.
It was decided by Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois that based on the law and finding that no questions of fact needed to be sorted by a jury, the case did not need to be heard by a jury. The judge said that the height regulations set by the Gaming Commission were met; the storm surge height of Camille at the casino was not established, and the standard for mooring requirements would not be set by a one-time surge. The judge’s decision was appealed by Borries. The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed with Judge Bourgeois’ decision and called the case “a battle of the experts” that would require a jury to sort out.
In January, Bourgeois dismissed a similar lawsuit, sans jury trial, filed by a Biloxi homeowner who claimed her home was destroyed by one of the casino’s barges. The appeal was won by the Grand Casino and State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.