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5th Circuit Court Holds Federal Government Harmless in Katrina Flood Related Ruling

As we all know, Hurricane Katrina caused extensive flood damage in New Orleans when the levees broke and left most of the city under several feet of flood waters. As a result, a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and in 2009 a federal judge ruled that the federal government was not entitled to immunity from lawsuits that blamed the corps’ operation and maintenance of the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet navigation channel for Katrina’s flood damage.

Federal Government Not Liable

However, according to, last Monday a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the 2009 decision by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, Jr. and stated that the Army Corps of Engineers is completely insulated from liability by a provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act called the “discretionary function exception”.

In essence, plaintiffs had argued that the Corps decided to postpone armoring the channel because of erroneous scientific decisions, not public policy considerations, something that would have made it immune to the homeowner’s claims. Yet, the court of appeals disagreed, stating that there was plenty of evidence that the corps’ decision was based in public policy. The new ruling is significant not because it reverses the $720,000.00 awarded by Judge Duval to these plaintiffs, but because it precludes about 500,000 administrative claims received by the corps (potentially worth billions) from becoming lawsuits in the future.

The shipping channel is a stretch of the Mississippi River that runs for 60 miles from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. It was opened in 1963 and remained open for 42 years until it was closed in 2005, three years after Katrina. Dredging of the channel by the corps over the years resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands that helped protect New Orleans from hurricane flood waters, causing the added pressure brought by Katrina’s torrential rains to brake the levees.

Many Without Flood Insurance

As discussed in previous posts, many homeowners (both in Louisiana and Florida) remain without flood insurance coverage. Over the years we have often found that many homeowners are under the mistaken impression that their homeowners’ insurance policies cover flood insurance. Such is not the case. Flood insurance coverage is available, but has to be purchased separately from the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program under FEMA. To find out if your community is eligible under the program, please visit FEMA’s website. It is important to know that the program only offers up to $250,000.00 in coverage, which means that a homeowner whose property is worth more may have to purchase additional insurance from a private insurance carrier. Yet, please note that the purchase of this additional insurance is conditioned on the homeowner being insured under the program for the first $250,000.00.

The Lawyers of Greenberg Stone and Urbano Can Help

Regardless of what kind of coverage you would like to see included in your homeowners insurance policy, you should have an attorney help you review your policy and advise you on what coverage you should have and for how much. With more than 75 years of combined experience, the Miami Dade County Homeowners Insurance Claims Law Offices of Greenberg Stone and Urbano have helped thousands of homeowners all over Florida review their policies, present their claims and get the compensation owed them by their insurance carrier.

Visit our website to learn more about our firm and contact us today for a free consultation.

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