Calling the ruling “huge,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday reacted to a federal judge finding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to maintain a shipping channel led to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina.
Nagin said he hopes the court decision will “open up the floodgates” for others to file lawsuits against the federal government, including his Louisiana city.
However, he acknowledged it’s likely the federal government will appeal Wednesday’s ruling.
Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller said in an e-mail the government is reviewing the decision and has made “no determination as to what future steps it would take in this matter.”
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. ruled that the “negligence of the Corps” by failing to maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet waterway “was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and short-sightedness.”
“For over 40 years, the Corps was aware that the Reach II levee protecting Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward was going to be compromised by the continued deterioration of the [waterway]. … 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.”
Duval issued the ruling in a lawsuit brought by six plaintiffs affected by the 2005 hurricane, who alleged the Corps of Engineers was liable for damages. The judge ruled against one couple, who lived in New Orleans East, but awarded the others, from the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, damages ranging from $100,000 to $317,000.