Mississippi Supreme Court Hears Katrina Case

After Cherri Porter's Biloxi beach house was damaged by Grand Casino barges during Hurricane Katrina, State Farm denied her claims. She lost lawsuits against the insurance company, her agent and Grand Casino. An appeals court upheld the rulings. Now the Mississippi Supreme Court will consider Porter's appeal, based on a similar 2013 case.

The Mississippi Supreme Court recently agreed to consider an appeal from

Cherri Porter, whose Biloxi beachfront home was damaged by the Grand Casino’s barges that were torn from its moorings during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The high court will determine if a judge erred in finding State Farm Fire and Casualty Company and Grand Casino were not liable for damages.

When Katrina hit, Mississippi casinos were required to be on the water or in cofferdams. The Grand Casino’s main barge traveled about 3,000 feet and a smaller barge moved 4,000 feet, both crashing into Porter’s home. She claimed her all-risk homeowner-insurance policy, which she said did not expressly exclude “barges,” should have covered the damage. When her claim was denied, Porter sued State Farm and her insurance agent and also sued the casino for negligence in 2006.

In 2009, a Harrison County judge dismissed the case against State Farm and the agent. In 2012, the judge dismissed the lawsuit against Grand Casino, finding Porter did not prove the casino was negligent. Last May, the state Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s rulings.

State Farm attorney Vincent J. Castigliola Jr. said Porter’s homeowner policy excluded both water damage and windstorm damage and therefore her loss was not covered. He said the appeals court was correct in finding the barge acted concurrent with the force of floodwater when it struck Porter’s home.

Grand Casino attorney Kasee Sparks Heisterhagen said the appeals court found the casino’s mooring system was designed to prevent foreseeable injuries and complied with the Mississippi Gaming Commission requirements.

In a motion to the Supreme Court, Porter’s attorneys cited the high court’s ruling in a similar 2013 case, in which it overturned a Harrison County judge’s decision that President Casino was not liable for damages when its barge broke loose during Katrina and destroyed a Biloxi motel. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled the President Casino’s owner must take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable injury in the event of a hurricane.

James E. Renfroe, Porter’s attorney, noted that ruling came after the Harrison County judge’s decision. But he said the appeals court knew about it and should have overturned the lawsuits’ dismissals. Renfroe stated a jury should settle the issues of damages and negligence.