NEW ORLEANS — As the Hurricane Katrina levee-failure case issues its settlement rewards, some victims are feeling less than vindicated with the small monetary amounts awarded to them.
With a total of $17 million in districts' insurance money dedicated to paying claims of the thousands of victims of the levee failure, many are seeing less money than anticipated. Awards vary from $3 to $3,000, according to a report by WWLTV.com. However, as much as $3.5 million of the settlement has been awarded to the 35 lawyers that represented claimants in the case, while another $2.5 million has paid for the administrative costs of the settlement.
“The details that are coming to light in the levee-breach lawsuit settlement are appalling,” Melissa Landry, executive director at Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. “Twelve years after the class-action lawsuit was filed, flood victims are receiving notices of settlement payments as little as $3. Meanwhile, trial lawyers, settlement administrators and court contractors collected more than $6 million.”
The case, which initially started with a pursuant claim of $10 billion from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has dwindled after the U.S. 5th District Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling at the district-court level and removed the Corps of Engineers from any liability to the claims against it. This left the 120,000 claims to fall in the hands of the Orleans Levee District, East Jefferson Levee District, and the Lake Borgne Levee District, which had a combined total of $17 million in insurance coverage to pay the claims that ballooned to more than $20 million with interest.
While the initial suit focused on victims of Hurricane Katrina, the scope of the settlement has been widened to include damage done during Hurricane Rita as well as non-flood property damage. It also covers renters and businesses and anyone that was visiting the region during the flooding, providing an average $118 per claim, according to WWLTV.com.
“The inequity in these settlements epitomizes everything that's wrong with our civil-justice system,” Landry said. “Our courts should be used to make victims whole, not to make personal-injury lawyers rich.”