NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge
recently dismissed a lawsuit filed against construction contractors
on a drainage project, which allegedly caused damage to homes and
businesses in Uptown New Orleans.
was made by Sewerage and Water Board against Cajun Constructions
Inc., B&K Construction and Boh Bros. Construction. The
contractors were working on the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood
Control Project in an attempt to mitigate flooding by upgrading the
draining system. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt dismissed
the complaint on Dec. 20.
“This dismissal is consistent with
legal precedent and has no effect on the claims home and business
owners are bringing against the S&WB for damage caused by the
construction,” attorney Michael Whitaker told The Louisiana
Record. “Suing the contractors was an attempt by the SW&B
to evade its written agreement to pay for these damages, and the
court appropriately denied this effort.”
Whitaker was representing
the plaintiffs with the New Orleans firm Bruno and
Approximately 215 plaintiffs claimed the construction by
Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project caused damage to
various homes and businesses. In response, S&WB cast blame on the
contractors for a myriad of damages in the Uptown area, including
broken sewer mains, damaged windows, sinking floors, and splintered
interior and exterior walls.
The agency purported the Army Corps
of Engineers did not relieve the contractors' responsibility for the
damage, as revealed in court documents. Engelhardt noted the
contractors had federal immunity and emphasized the Corps largely
oversaw the work the contractors conducted.
Engelhardt stated S&WB could not definitively prove the property
damage was spurred by misconduct of the contractors. He said the
government was aware of the potential hazards latched to construction
projects, including damage to buildings in close proximity.
Furthermore, Corps engineer John Fogarty showed Engelhardt that
an underground box culvert in an urban region has the potential to
trigger damage, and that the Corps anticipated the dust, sound,
limited access and congestion would create difficulties.
estimated a $400,000 price tag attached to the damages.
“There are roughly 250 plaintiff
properties that we represent in the case,” he said. “The nature
and extent of damages attributable to the SELA Project and cost of
repair estimates are unique to each property because every home is
different in terms of age, building methods and required repairs.
Some damage claims are as high as $1 million; some are as low as
Property owners have filed a $86 million lawsuit
against S&WB in regards to ground-shaking roadwork on the four
Uptown thoroughfares. Whitaker said he is confident S&WB will be
held accountable for the damage spawned by the construction
In June, Engelhardt ordered the suite consisting of 215
plaintiffs to be divided into 20 groups. The first group was
anticipated to go to mediation rather than trial before retired U.S.
Magistrate Judge Michael Hill by the end of the year. The final group
is anticipated to go into mediation at the end of the year. The trial
is expected to begin this spring and summer.
“Being back in
state court (CDC) provides us with many strategic advantages,”
Whitaker said. “First, unlike in federal court, we are entitled by
law to trial priority for all plaintiffs who are over 70 years of age
or seriously ill. This is a mandatory rule with no exceptions, and
trial must be set no later than 180 days of our request. The court is
required to delay any other cases that might conflict in order to
allow the cases with priority to go forward. We have many plaintiffs
who meet this criteria, and we plan to request priority as soon as