US Government Loses First Climate Disaster Lawsuit

Published on December 2nd, 2009 | by

In a case that is possibly precedent-setting, the US Government has just lost a landmark disaster-negligence lawsuit. The Army Corps of Engineers was sued for negligence in Hurricane Katrina flood protection in New Orleans… and lost.

Image: Lou Angeli DigitalKatrina_Damage
Exhausted firefighters put out a blaze in downtown New Orleans after Katrina hits

While islands such as Tuvalu have sued the oil industry and the Bush administration for negligence in causing sea level rise, in this case the complaints focused only on negligence for levy repairs.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval awarded the plaintiffs (six residents and one business) $720,000, but the government could eventually be forced to pay much more in damages in this one case. According to the NYT, the judge’s ruling gives more than 100,000 other individuals, businesses and government entities a legal precedent for claiming billions of dollars in damages.

This is the first time ever that the Army Corps of Engineers has been held liable for damages for a major catastrophe that was caused in part by its negligence. A similar suit after Hurricane Betsy flooding in 1965 failed.

The Army Corps has begun work on new protection, but stay tuned. As we head into a future filled with more climate-change related disasters, lawsuits against negligence by Federal Agencies will likely increase.

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