Jury Floats a 12 - 0 Defense Verdict in Ross Flood Case

Posted on Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Lawyer Battle in Flood Damage Case Ends with Defense Verdict

Kate Moser

The Recorder | November 10, 2010


SAN FRANCISCO — A Marin County jury returned a defense verdict Tuesday in a hotly litigated dispute over a flooded clothing boutique.


On the surface, it was a routine dispute between former landlords and a pair of entrepreneurs whose high-fashion boutique in Ross was wrecked by floodwaters in 2005.


But the two opposing counsel — Raymond Bourhis and Edward Hugo — had trouble masking their mutual disdain, adding a touch of drama to the proceedings.


Bourhis, whose daughter was a co-owner of the store, argued that landlords Kate and John Lord failed to pile sandbags or install floodgates, and when a bad flood ruined expensive stock and stunted the budding business, they wouldn't let the renters out of their lease.


Hugo, of San Francisco's HUGO PARKER, had threatened to put Bourhis on the stand to testify about his expertise in flood litigation and his financial interest in the flooded retail business, including a flagship store called Brown Eyed Girl.


In a 12-0 decision, the jury awarded nothing to Bourhis' daughter and her business partner. Marin County Superior Court Judge James Ritchie presided over the case.


Bourhis said in an interview that an appeal has been in the works for a year, ever since an earlier ruling that held the landlords had no duty to disclose the rental property was in a floodplain. He asserted that it's a case of first impression.


"The question is whether or not a landlord can get away with concealing that kind of information," he said. "That is the issue that is going to go up on appeal. If you have a rule that says you can hide the ball on people, that's inconsistent with any kind of standard I'm familiar with."


But Hugo dismissed Bourhis' conviction as a quixotic pursuit of an elusive cause of action.


"The court has ultimately ruled throughout that very lengthy and laborious pleading process that that cause of action does not exist in this case," Hugo said. "He's literally changed the order of the words he's used to describe it."


Further, Hugo maintained, the facts are that his clients warned their former tenants that the property had flooded in the past. "Their allegation was basically that the Lords should have monitored the Weather Channel 24-7 and wrapped the building in plastic or something when it started raining," he said.


Hugo's strategy of pointing out Bourhis' financial interest in the case, as well his expertise in flood litigation, fell flat, Bourhis claimed. "The jury didn't pay any attention to that at all," he said. "They were laughing at that argument."


Bourhis added that he wasn't seeking any damages for his investment in Brown Eyed Girl.


But Hugo felt that the jury responded to the money theme, given, for example, a $12 million total claimed in pretrial damages for two different businesses ruined by the flood damage.


"The plaintiffs played the greed card pretty hard, and I think that had a great impact on the jury and certainly dissolved any feelings they might have had for these lost businesses," Hugo said.



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