Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Second Flood

While New Orleans is still being drained, a new flood is decending into the bowl. The lawyers are coming and quickly filling the courts with new and exciting garbage for us to read. The AG of Louisiana made the news the other day as he filed negligent homicide charges against two nursing home owners.

Here's a round-up of a few of the lawsuits that are being filed:
Class-action suit filed against oil companies
NEW ORLEANS — Two area lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit against major oil and gas companies on behalf of victims of Hurricane Katrina. The suit blames drilling activities throughout Southeast Louisiana for destroying hundreds of acres of wetlands that served as natural barriers for New Orleans.


“Everyone has been talking about the failures of the state, local and federal governments in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” said Val P. Exnicios of Liska, Exnicios & Nungesser. “We believe it's the right time to pinpoint who's essentially responsible for the devastation caused by Katrina in the first place — the major oil and gas companies, who haphazardly dredged thousands of miles of exploration and drill site canals throughout South Louisiana to extract oil and gas. "

As I recall, the whole City of New Orleans was built on those natural wetlands (formally known as swamps.) There was NEVER a natural barrier! They had to drain the swampland to create the dry land in the first place.

He's one of the few that aren't blaming President Bush for the disaster though. That doesn't quite make him my friend though.

Miss. sues to force insurers to pay all hurricane damage
JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi on Thursday sued insurers to force them to pay billions of dollars in flood damage from Hurricane Katrina, saying standard insurance polices have led homeowners to believe they are covered for all hurricane damage, whether from high winds or storm surges.

To deny coverage to those whose homes were wiped out by the storm surge, but lacked flood insurance, is "taking advantage of people in the most dire straits," said Attorney General Jim Hood, who filed the lawsuit against five major insurers.
My homeowners policy clearly says that flooding that comes from the outside is not covered. Since I happen to be a member of one of the top five insurance carriers, I'm sure that their insurance policy is one of 30 million duplicate copies, probably even printed on the same press.

Please don't think they are doing this because they love their people and truly believe they are being denied justice. If this lawsuit were to succeed, then the insurance companies would pay everything....and the state would pay nearly nothing to help rebuild. :) But wait, would the insurance companies actually pay? They would probably go running to Congress to get the funds to pay off the people. That means, the people who would be paying for everything would be you and me.

However, the article continues...
In Louisiana, a group of homeowners sued 16 insurance companies Thursday, asking a state district court to rule that neglect and wind damage caused the flood that inundated thousands of homes in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Breaches in the levees which ring the city allowed the water in, so the floods were not caused by an "act of God," according to the lawsuit.
Okay, if you really didn't catch it, I will sum up what this group is asking the courts to do. They want a judge to rule that the flood that resulted from Katrina was not an "act of God". If this one lawsuit were to succeed, the ruling could become the precendent, and it would effect every single lawsuit currently filed.

Apparently, Louisiana is one of the easiest states to sue in due to a different legal system, but I have no idea of the detail of this.
Many suits will be fought by attorneys who have been displaced from their offices by hurricane damage. They and other Louisiana lawyers will be in big demand because theirs is the only U.S. state in which the legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code rather than British common law. Some of the U.S.' most successful plaintiffs' lawyers are based in the Gulf Coast region.

The Houston Chronicle has a fair article describing the huge barriers the lawyers must overcome to sue the government.

One legal question will be what problems were foreseeable — for example, whether the entities responsible for the levee could predict the flooding would occur. If the damage was foreseeable, the chances of a lawsuit succeeding would be greater.

Another legal question surrounds reliance — what promises were made that people relied upon in their actions. For example, if the promise was that the levees would hold to a Category 3 storm, it would not work to argue people were promised they would hold for a storm like Katrina.

On the good side of things, the House quickly passed a bill that would give volunteers better protection from liabililty, even if they weren't officially part of a volunteer organization. Now we need the Senate to approve it. And we need a miracle if we think that this bill won't be passed with a ton of pork added to it.

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