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Hurricane Katrina Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Suit Will Go to Trial

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A lawsuit stemming from Hurricane Katrina flooding will go forward.  The lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims that negligence on the part of the Corp allowed Katrina’s storm surge to rush through the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, and caused  flooding in parts of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, which was built by the Corps, serves as a shortcut for ships from the Mississippi River heading to the Gulf of Mexico.  It has long been a subject of scorn for environmentalists, who claim it caused significant damage to surrounding wetlands and swamp forests.

The Army Corps argued that  federal law gives it immunity from lawsuits – a concept called sovereign immunity -  and that it properly maintained the waterway. But U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval dismissed that argument, writing that there were “substantial questions of fact with respect to the actions and inactions that followed the creation of the channel”.

Judge Duval said that  a trial is required on the issue of whether the Corps failed to take the risk of flooding from the outlet seriously after it dug the channel, the Associated Press said. The Corps argued that it “relied on studies that the widening of the channel and loss of wetlands would not have an effect on the people and property in the area,” Duval said. “The question is whether the reliance on these studies was negligent or not.”

The Hurricane Katrina lawsuit is now scheduled for trial beginning April 20.  According to the Associated Press, the case will be watched by thousands of other Hurricane Katrina victims who also blame the Army Corps of Engineers for the loss of their homes.  According to The New York Times, the government has said damages in the suit could reach $100 billion – making it the largest in U.S. history.  If the plaintiffs are successful, it would open the door to more litigation, as more than 400,000 similar complaints have been filed against the Corps, the Times said.

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