Insurer Must Pay New Orleans Grocer $21M for Katrina Damage

June 6, 2008

An insurance company unreasonably failed to pay for wind and other damage from Hurricane Katrina and must pay more than $21 million to the owner of a New Orleans grocery chain, a federal jury has found.

“It’s the biggest Katrina judgment in Louisiana or Mississippi that we know of,” said Philip Franco, who represented Robert’s Fresh Markets owner Marc Robert II against United Fire & Casualty Insurance Co.

Soren Giselson, head of the Louisiana Association of Justice insurance section, agreed.

Franco said jurors awarded Robert almost exactly the $16.7 million he said he was owed for repairs, plus penalties for late payment.

“This insurance company delayed and refused to make payments because of the financial stress put on that company because they didn’t purchase enough reinsurance to cover the extent of the catastrophic losses caused by Katrina,” Franco said.

Attorneys who represented United Fire & Casualty did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request Thursday for comment.

The trial lasted several days over two weeks. Jurors listed amounts for limited liability companies that ran four Robert’s Fresh Market stores around New Orleans and one in Kenner.

Each store was assigned money to cover building damage, business interruption, tenant improvements and loss of business personal property from windstorm and from vandalism, theft or looting.

The Kenner store reopened in November 2005. Three stores – including one closed before the hurricane, and another for which Robert lost the lease because he ran out of money to pay $30,000 a month rent, will not reopen, Franco said. He said Robert hopes to reopen the fifth once he gets money from the judgment and an agreement on repairs with the building’s owners, who were awarded $1 million – half for lost rent and half in penalties.

Robert has a separate lawsuit against the insurer for a sixth store, which reopened in November.

Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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