Mississippi High Court Overturns Ruling in Katrina Case

By JACK ELLIOTT JR. | July 29, 2013

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a judge to take another look at lawsuit over whether a company is liable for damage caused when the President Casino was torn from its moorings during Hurricane Katrina and smacked into a nearby hotel.

Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005. Casinos at that time were required to be located on the water or in coffer dams and they were destroyed. The President Casino broke from its moorings and came to rest on top of the Biloxi Beachfront Hotel along U.S. Highway 90. Its owner, Eli Investments LLC, said the hotel’s main building was destroyed and other parts of the hotel were extensively damaged.

In 2007, Eli sued Silver Slipper Casino Venture, saying the company failed to maintain the casino barge properly before and during the storm.

Silver Slipper argued it had followed state regulations in mooring requirements. It also said it could not be liable for “Acts of God” and that it could not have prevented through any reasonable measures the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented storm surge and wind gusts.

Harrison County Circuit Judge Roger Clark, in 2011, sided with Silver Slipper.

The Supreme Court, however, in a unanimous ruling Thursday, said Silver Slipper owed a duty to its neighbors to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable injury in the event of a hurricane. The high court said it was also clear that the President Casino’s unmooring caused damage to Eli’s hotel.

“We find that Eli has offered sufficient proof to create a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Silver Slipper’s breach of its duty to take reasonable precautions to protect those in close proximity to the President Casino during Hurricane Katrina,” said Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing for the court.

Waller said expert testimony provided by Eli and Silver Slipper offered different opinions about what occurred.

“This court has held that the winner in a battle of the experts is to be decided by the jury,” he said.

Waller said the trial judge also erred in agreeing with Silver Slipper’s “Act of God” defense. Waller said an “Act of God” does not remove the company from liability if a jury finds an injury that could have been prevented through the use of ordinary care.

“We have found that there exists a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Silver Slipper was negligent in mooring the President Casino adequately to withstand Hurricane Katrina. If a jury finds that Silver Slipper, through the exercise of reasonable care, could have prevented the damage to Eli’s property, the ‘Act of God’ defense will not apply,” Waller said.

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