Harrison County

Grand Casino loses Katrina appeal over schooner pier damage

 The rebuilt Biloxi Schooner Pier in the Mississippi Sound, photographed in 2015.
JUSTIN MITCHELL/SUN HERALD The rebuilt Biloxi Schooner Pier in the Mississippi Sound, photographed in 2015. SUN HERALD

The Mississippi Supreme Court has reversed a ruling in favor of Grand Casino over Hurricane Katrina damage to the Biloxi Schooner Pier, returning the case to Circuit Court for a trial of Borries Construction Co.'s claim the casino was negligent in mooring its barge.

One of the Grand's two casino barges crashed into the pier Borries was building when the hurricane hit in August 2005. The pier was nearly finished. Company owner Kenny Borries' insurance did not cover third-party damage. Borries filed a lawsuit because the casino would not reimburse him for the damage.

The lawsuit asks for more than $1.5 million, the amount Borries had invested in pier construction, and demolition and cleanup from hurricane damage, plus the business he lost when he was unable to take other post-storm cleanup work while he rebuilt the pier.

In the case, Grand Casino claimed its gambling barge was properly moored and the hurricane was an unavoidable act of God. Borries offered testimony from two experts who said the Grand's mooring system was designed to withstand a 15-foot storm surge rather than historical surges that were higher. The Grand's two barges would not have come loose, experts for Borries said, if they had been designed to withstand the surge Hurricane Camille packed in 1969. The Grand's experts testified mooring systems protected against surges of at least 15 feet, the height set by Mississippi Gaming Commission regulations. The surge in the area of the Grand, one expert said, was at least 24 feet.

Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois granted the Grand's motion to dismiss the case without sending it to a jury. The judge decided the case based on the law, finding there was no question of fact for a jury to sort out. He said the Grand met Gaming Commission regulations; the height of Camille's storm surge at the Grand was not established; and a one-time surge would not set the standard for mooring requirements.

Borries appealed the decision.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit judge, calling the case "a battle of the experts" a jury would need to sort out.

"We're just happy that Mr. Borries is going to have his day in court in front of a jury of his peers in Harrison County," said his attorney Chris Corkern. "It's been a long ride."

In January, the Grand and State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. won the appeal of a lawsuit filed by a Biloxi homeowner who claimed one of the casino's barges destroyed her home. Bourgeois also dismissed this case without sending it to a jury. The Supreme Court found no issue of fact for a jury to decide because the homeowner's insurance policy excluded damage from storm surge. Also, the court said, the homeowner failed to set up a battle of experts by presenting evidence the mooring system was inadequate.