Army Corps of Engineers Responsible for Much of Katrina's Damage, Judge Rules

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. ruled Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers mismanaged the maintenance of the shipping channel known as the “Mister GO” (the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, MR-GO), leading directly to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses in St. Bernard Parish and the New Orleans neighborhood known as the Lower Ninth Ward.

The case directly involves $700,000 in damages to three people and a business, but opens the door to claims by as many as 100,000 residents and former residents of the affected neighborhoods. If upheld, this judgment could lead to damage claims in the $billions.

“The people of this city have been vindicated,” said attorney Joseph Bruno, a leader of the large team of lawyers who represented the plaintiffs. “They didn’t do anything wrong and it’s time they be compensated.”

The corps has estimated that it received more than 490,000 claims forms in the aftermath of Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005, but those forms include many from areas not covered by this decision. …

Bruno and [Los Angeles-based plaintiff’s attorney Pierce] O’Donnell said they expect to travel to Washington, D.C., as early as next week to try to convince members of the administration of President Barack Obama and members of Congress to consider revisiting requests for compensation by New Orleans-area residents  in both the areas covered by the decision and in other areas flooded by corps-related failures of levees.

Duval had ruled last year that, while failures of flood control structures might be the cause of damage in other areas, a 1928 federal law granted the corps immunity from damages. In that ruling, however, he said that the immunity clause did not extend to the MR-GO, which was a navigation channel and not a flood control structure.

The Feds are expected to appeal this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. The Corps has declared its intention to hold of on any actiion on the outstanding claims pending a final ruling.