5th Circuit Upholds $21M Katrina Damage Award to Grocer

August 13, 2009

A federal appeals court on Aug. 11 upheld a $21 million jury award to the owner of a New Orleans grocery chain that sustained damage in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal also ordered United Fire & Casualty Insurance Co. to pay Robert Fresh Market’s owner Marc Robert II an additional $1 million in “bad faith” penalties.

“The verdict was completely upheld and the court awarded us an additional $900,000 to $1 million under the penalty statues,” said Philip Franco, an attorney with the regional law firm of Adams and Reese, which represented the plaintiffs. “Basically, we won every issue on appeal.”

Franco said the defendant can ask the court to rehear the case. “But I think that’s very unlikely, especially since the judges came back with a verdict so quickly,” he said.

Oral arguments in the appeal were heard about a week ago. Franco said it usually takes, on average, about three months for the court to issue a ruling.

A spokesman for United Fire & Casualty Insurance was not immediately available for comment.

The grocery chain had five stores around New Orleans and one in Kenner that were damaged by the 2005 storm. A jury 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.

“It’s been a very hard and long road to justice but justice has been achieved,” Franco said.

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

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