Settlement reached in Harold Allen fire case

Published 2:08 am Wednesday, January 12, 2000

By By Sherry Digmon
The lawsuit filed by Harold Allen against Carl and Shannon Cooper, owners of The Apple Barrel, recently ended in a settlement.
Allen had sought $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages but received $795,000 from the Coopers' insurance company following mediation. Both parties said they were pleased with the outcome.
The suit arose from a July 2, 1998, fire which destroyed a warehouse, warehouse contents, an office and several mobile homes on Allen's property.
Harold Allen's Mobile Home Factory Outlet and The Apple Barrel are located across from each other on North Main Street. Allen owns property behind The Apple Barrel where the warehouse and mobile homes were located.
Allen claimed the fire was started by James Mitchell, an employee of The Apple Barrel, who was burning trash behind the business just prior to the fire.
At the trial in October, Allen's attorney, Robert Presto, asked for $769,115 in compensatory damages n $546,174 to rebuild the warehouse and office complex; $162,986 in lost inventory; $6,300 in rental space due to the loss of the warehouse; and $53,655 interest on the amount of the loss since the date of occurrence.
Presto also asked for punitive damages which are meant to "punish and deter." The rule of thumb is that punitive damages are triple the amount of compensatory damages, bringing punitive damages to more than $2 million, Presto said.
The trial included testimony by an Atmore firefighter that he had informed the Coopers of a city ordinance banning trash burning. Augustine Meaher III, the Coopers' attorney, said Mrs. Cooper had called then Atmore Fire Chief Charlie Rutherford and received permission to burn trash that day, but Rutherford testified that the conversation never took place.
Meaher also contended that there was no firm evidence that the fire on Allen's property started from the trash fire behind The Apple Barrel.
He brought in a fire cause and origin expert who testified that he could not determine the point where the fire started.
Rutherford said on his report that the fire "probably started" from The Apple Barrel's trash fire.
The three-day trial ended in a mistrial with the jury unable to reach a verdict following deliberation that began after lunch and continued until about 8 p.m.
The settlement signed by Allen on Dec. 30 as an individual and on behalf of Harold Allen's Mobile Home Factory Outlet released the Coopers, The Apple Barrel and Mitchell from all claims, causes of action and liabilities concerning the fire.

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