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First MRGO Hurricane Katrina Flood Trial A Big Win For Plaintiffs

Nov 19, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A major Hurricane Katrina flooding trial ended with a win for plaintiffs yesterday, as  a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' failure to properly maintain the Mississippi River Gulf Coast Outlet (known popularly as MRGO) was partly to blame for the flooding that followed the historic storm.

Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr's. landmark decision awarded over $719,000 to four different sets of  plaintiffs.  However, the ruling could set a precedent for over 400,000 other residents of New Orleans and St. Bernard parish who have filed similar damage claims against the Corps.

MRGO was built to allow ships easier access between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. In order to build it, the Army Corps of Engineers cut through 76 miles of swamp and wetlands that had once served to protect the Crescent City from destructive storm surges, like the one that accompanied Katrina. Flood victims had claimed  that during the storm, the MRGO acted as a funnel, and pulled much of Katrina’s storm surge into the New Orleans and St. Bernard.
The Corps had argued that the federal Flood Control Act shielded the government from liability for defective flood-control projects.   But Judge Duval did not agree, ruling that the Corps was not protected from liability in the case of MRGO because it was built for navigation, not flood control.

Judge Duval said the Army engineers are liable for the “negligent operation and maintenance” of the canal and not for faulty design or construction. “When the corps designed the MRGO, it recognized that foreshore protection was going to be needed, yet the corps did nothing to monitor the problem in a meaningful way," he wrote in a 156-page opinion.

According to the judge had said at the trial's start that his finding would be used as a guide for other claims.  An attorney for other MRGO plaintiffs said lawyers will be seeking a global settlement with the U.S. to cover residents and businesses in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, east New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

Following Katrina, the U.S. Congress ordered the closure of MRGO, and  it was officially closed to boat traffic in April.

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