A federal judge in New Orleans has found “monumental negligence” by the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers in the operation and maintenance of a shipping channel called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. The finding allows residents to collect damages against the U.S. government after their homes were swamped by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters in 2005.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval rejected the government’s argument that the Corps was immune from liability and had properly maintained the navigation channel. The court specifically cited the Corps’ decision to widen the channel and allow the loss of protective wetlands as contributors to the disaster.
Duval awarded damages of about $720,000 to four people and a business in the case.
The immunity issue is likely to be appealed. Usually the government has immunity in areas where it exercises discretionary judgment or authority. A government official is allowed to be wrong and even moronic. The burning of the compound in Waco Texas is an example of such broad discretion. Few experts agreed with Janet Reno’s decision to send in a tank to charge a building filled with children and religious fanatics, but the courts still recognized immunity for officials.