Hurricane Katrina Lawsuit Results in Damages Against Army Corps

A federal judge ruled last week in favor of residents from New Orlean’s Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish over the Army Corps of Engineers’ maintenance of the city’s levees, potentially exposing the government to liability in a number of Hurricane Katrina lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. awarded $719,698 to a group of plaintiffs from the St. Bernard parish in New Orleans who sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to properly maintain levees with burst during the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe of 2005. While the ruling was in favor of only four residents and one business, potentially thousands of Katrina victims could sue the government on the same grounds, which could lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in liability exposure for the federal government.

The plaintiffs in the property damage lawsuit argued that the Corps was negligent in the design, construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, known as the MRGO (Mister Go) canal. Residents said that dredging by the Corps allowed the storm surge generated by the hurricane to sweep into the parish virtually unimpeded.

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Duval found that the Army Corps negligently maintained the canal, but rejected arguments that the design itself was faulty. Duval verbally skewered the Corps in his opinion on the case.

“It is the Court’s opinion that the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness,” Duval wrote in his November 18 opinion. “The Corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so. Clearly the expression ‘talk is cheap’ applies here.”

The ruling may have far reaching consequences, as tens of thousands of homes or businesses in the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard’s Parish were destroyed. One Army report estimated that the government’s total liability in the cases could exceed $500 billion.

The ruling has brought a number of bipartisan statements calling for the government to settle with Katrina victims and take action to prevent similar Army Corps of Engineer failings in the future. Senators Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican said they were glad to see relief ordered for hurricane victims. Vitter said the decision could serve as a warning against similar problems in the future.

In addition Democratic Senator Russ Feingold and Republican Senator John McCain issued a joint statement calling for sweeping reforms for the Corps in the wake of the ruling. “American taxpayers cannot wait for another natural disaster like Katrina before we act to improve the safety and security of Corps projects,” the statement said.

2 Comments

  • ClevelandApril 29, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Residents would not have to sue goverment if we had worked together to rebuild and help the residents of lousiiana. We brag about how we help all these different countries but we scared to admit we have a race problem here. Why were the residents in Mississippi given more help?

  • ChuckNovember 24, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Everyone should read and re-read John McPhee's The Control of Nature, published in 1987, The Army Corp of Engineers assumed authority over the patchwork of levee systems and districts a number of decades ago, but the fact is that levees have been built along the Mississippi for 200 years. The result is that much of Louisiana is now below the level of the Mississippi river. The problem was not Katr[Show More]Everyone should read and re-read John McPhee's The Control of Nature, published in 1987, The Army Corp of Engineers assumed authority over the patchwork of levee systems and districts a number of decades ago, but the fact is that levees have been built along the Mississippi for 200 years. The result is that much of Louisiana is now below the level of the Mississippi river. The problem was not Katrina, but simple fluid mechanics. Does anyone REALLY believe we can control the forces of nature? Maybe we should just abandon the levees and force people to move out of such dangerious areas.

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