WALKER – The recent flooding in Louisiana could lead to an influx of lawsuits seeking government compensation for flood damage.
Rick Ramsey, the mayor of Walker, said in mid-August that he plans to sue both the U.S. Department of Transportation and Louisiana Department of Transportation following extensive flood damage in the area; and
one legal expert believes that more such lawsuits are possible if local officials or residents believe the government did something wrong.
The suits were made possible by a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that government flood control efforts can sometimes constitute a “taking” under the Fifth Amendment.
“(In the 2012 case), the U.S. Supreme Court found the U.S. liable under the takings clause for flood-related damages and expanded the liability of the U.S.,” John Echeverria, a professor at Vermont Law School, told the Louisiana Record.
In Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that such lawsuits could proceed. Justice Elana Kagan, who had worked on the case as Solicitor General prior to her appointment to the court, recused herself from the case.
“It appears to open the door to more similar claims in the future,” Echeverria said. “Of course, every case is different, and (it's) hard to know how far to take a U.S. Supreme Court precedent, but it probably will result in a rise of claims."
Echeverria is the former general counsel of the National Audubon Society and Conservation Director of American Rivers Inc.
“It seems likely that additional similar claims will be filed in Louisiana,” Echeverria said.
In threatening the suit, Ramsey alleged faults in the construction of Interstate 12, and said he and others warned of the chance of flooding. Ramsey told multiple media outlets that he has reached out to law firms that specialize in that sort of litigation and that the suit will be filed soon.
The Louisiana floods began August 12 following extended rainfall in the area and affected more than 20 Louisiana parishes, mostly in the southern part of the state. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and asked that the 20 parishes be added to the federal declaration of a state of emergency. The reported death toll from the storm is 13, with property damage affecting more than 100,000 homes.
“We are working around the clock to get every available resource into the hands of the people of our state,” the governor said in a statement on August 16. “No one will be forgotten as we continue to assess the damage. I will continue to work with the federal government, as well as state, local and federal partners, to make sure the resources we need are on the ground as soon as possible.”
Edwards met with the state’s Congressional delegation last week, noting that he was doing so on the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting Louisiana.