Judge Dismisses Hurricane Katrina Lawsuits; Government Immune From Legal Action

A New Orleans judge has dismissed dozens of lawsuits against the federal government stemming from Hurricane Katrina’s damage – more specifically – failures of the levees as well as damage caused by flooding.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. came to the decision over a year after a federal appeals court reversed his ruling that held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable for the damage caused by the flooding, citing their careless maintenance of a shipping channel as the source.

Additionally, Judge Duval Jr. dismissed another Katrina-based lawsuit involving a contractor who allegedly weakened the floodwalls in New Orleans’ Industrial Canal while performing excavation work.

Duval entered the orders that dismissed both lawsuits on December 20, 2013.

Over 500,000 Louisiana residents, businesses, and governments have filed claims against the Corps, alleging that the 2005 hurricane was a man-made disaster, caused by the Corps.

However, a 1928 federal law gave rise to immunity from lawsuits which are related to any decisions made on flood-control projects, which include levees.

Although lawyers attempted to work around this immunity clause by claiming that the agency was negligent in their maintenance of navigation channels such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, they were unsuccessful.

That channel funneled the brunt of Katrina’s impact into the city, leaving thousands of homes demolished and taking the lives of 1,400 people. That channel is now closed.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Duval’s 2009 ruling that the Corps was liable for the flooding of the Lower 9th Ward, as well as St. Bernard Parish, due to the agency’s failure to properly maintain the channel, allowing protective marshland to wash away.

However, a three-judge panel reversed its earlier opinion back in September, claiming that the new ruling “completely insulates the government from liability.”

Under federal law, the government cannot be sued over “public policy” actions. The judges on the panel wrote that the Corps’ decision regarding how they maintained the shipping panel falls under that protection, leaving them immune from legal action.

This ruling is important, because it appears improbable that the government will be forced to pay for damages stemming from any other catastrophes.

What do you think about Duval’s order to dismiss these cases? Do you think victims of Katrina should be allowed to recover damages from the government?

Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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