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Hurricane Katrina Ruling Could Impact North Texas

LP Phillips, KRLD L.P. Phillips
  L.P. Phillips is an Edward R. Murrow Award winning investigative...
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DALLAS (KRLD) – A major ruling out of the Hurricane Katrina damage in New Orleans could have an affect on the levee system around Dallas. The 5th U-S Circuit Court of Appeals has found the Army Corps of Engineers cannot be held liable for the damage caused in New Orleans when levees failed during the 2005 storm.  The Army Corps maintains the levee system.

In a 26-page ruling, the Court combined three legal actions into a single matter that effectively held the Corps cannot be held accountable or liable.  The Court upheld the dismissal of several suits, reversed three cases in which a jury had ruled for the victims and awarded damages, and ruled that several other cases cannot be brought to trial.

Legal experts who have reviewed the ruling suggest there could be a wide-ranging impact, including in Dallas, where a levee system protects the city from the Trinity River during floods.

“I think that what it means is that in the event there was a flood that breached levees in Dallas that there’s not going to be the ability to hold the Corps responsible,” said attorney Trey Brahnam.  He noted the decision to build levees and added insurance to protect itself from suits.

“You certainly hope the Corps is doing the job it said it was going to do.”  he said. “But at the end of the day, what Congress made the decision on years and years and decades ago was that if something happens the Federal Government is not going to be responsible for the damages that are caused by the levees not doing their job.”

The ruling was being read the same way by two Dallas City Council members who are also lawyers.  Angela Hunt, District 14, and Scott Griggs, District 3, say the ruling has a chilling effect on the ability of the city to recoup damages if the levee system fails.

“Based on this decision, the Corps doesn’t have liability or accountability for their actions.”  said Griggs.  “So, really, safety and engineering are being trumped by policy.”

He says the city has to question all risk numbers and risk profile that the Corps gives to the city, since the Corps can be dead wrong and cannot be sued.

Likewise Hunt says the ruling concerns her for the exact same reasons.

In a statement, the Army Corps of Engineers says it “has received and is reviewing the ruling Monday by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.”

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