The S.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a jury verdict of more than $7 million to Winthrop University against a contractor from a 2010 roof fire that caused millions of dollars in damages.
The case went to trial in March 2014 in York. The jury found against Pickens Roofing and Sheet Metals for both breach of contract and negligence, awarding $7,223,343.14 in damages. Winthrop has yet to recover any of the money, as the roofing company appealed the verdict. However, any damages accrue interest.
Winthrop would not keep any of the money but instead would turn it over to the state’s insurance reserve fund, which insured the property, said Monica Bennett, director of communications for Winthrop.
The March 2010 fire started on the flat roof connecting Owens Hall and Bancroft Hall and burned for more than 24 hours, causing extensive fire and water damage to both buildings and forcing the relocation of classes and offices for months. Winthrop filed breach of contract and negligence lawsuits against Pickens, a contractor doing work on windows of Bancroft Hall the week before the fire.
The cause of the fire was never determined, but both sides stipulated that roofing materials were stored on the flat section of roof connecting the two buildings, court documents show.
Pickens appealed the verdict and damages after the 2014 trial on several fronts, including claiming a juror was a Winthrop alum who knew too much about the case and that Winthrop could never prove how the fire started.
The appeal was argued in December 2015 in front of a three-judge appeals court panel, but its unanimous ruling upholding the jury’s verdict wasn’t released until this month. It remains unclear if Pickens will appeal the ruling to the full appeals court or S.C. Supreme Court. Efforts to reach lawyers representing Pickens were unsuccessful Monday.
Owens Hall had only opened in 2007 and cost $6.5 million to build, yet required more than $4.5 million in renovations to repair the damage, school officials said later in 2010. Bancroft Hall also suffered damages in the fire. No one was injured.