A federal appeals court has absolved the US Army Corps of Engineers of any liability related to Hurricane Katrina damage. Five survivors of the storm had sued the Army Corps for loss of property and livelihood resulting from a poorly managed flood-control system that did not protect New Orleans and surrounding areas from the hurricane’s high wind and floods.
Appeals Court Reverses Earlier Decision
This judgment came as a surprise to many because a lower court had originally ruled in favor of plaintiffs seeking compensation from the Army group. In 2005, a court panel decided that the Army Corps of Engineers had some level of liability because it was responsible for maintaining the levee and other mechanisms intended to protect the city.
Nearly 2,000 people died during Hurricane Katrina. The storm caused about $81 billion in damages.
The court originally decided that the five victims involved in the case would receive $720,000 in compensation.
The higher court ruled that the Army Corps was not responsible even though some of its actions might have contributed to the plaintiffs’ financial losses. The court decided that the Army’s actions were influenced by policy decisions outside of its control. Therefore, the Army Corps is not responsible.
Why Did the Levees Fail?
Absolving the Army Corps of liability does not necessarily mean that its planning and actions did not contribute to destruction. Several independent studies have concluded that a variety of factors contributed to the failure of levees and other protective systems. Some of those factors were directly influenced by the Army Corps of Engineers. Uneven floodgates and considerable erosion, for instance, could have significantly increased the storm’s ability to damage the city.
One review written by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development even concluded that Hurricane Katrina was a “man-made catastrophe.” Presumably, much of the destruction could have been controlled with better systems.
Ruling Means More Victim Loss
The appeals court’s decision means that the Army Corps of Engineers will not have to compensate individuals and companies for financial losses caused by the impact of Hurricane Katrina. The five hurricane survivors suing the government, however, are not the only people who won’t receive compensation because of the ruling.
There were thousands of potential plaintiffs waiting for the suit’s outcome before filing their court documents.
Victim advocates maintain that this ruling does not absolve the Army Corps of responsibility. While the law might have fallen on the Army Corp of Engineer’s side, many advocates still say that the group’s negligence contributed to death and financial loss during the storm.
This , of course, is not the end of the legal dispute between the government and hurricane survivors. The plaintiffs say that they will appeal the most current ruling. Both sides say that they are willing to take the case before the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary. This could mean that a final ruling is still years away, leaving he Army corps and plaintiffs uncertain of the legal outcome.