Checks In New Orleans Mail Soon, Attorneys In Katrina-Rita Case Say

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Letters have gone out to inform nearly 125,000 New Orleans-area residents and businesses that checks will be mailed soon in a 2009 settlement over flood damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

         The money won't be major in most cases: Joseph Bruno, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the suit told The Times-Picayune’s Mark Schleifstein that payments will range from $2.50 to $3,700.

         The $20 million settlement came in a lawsuit involving the East Jefferson, Orleans and Lake Borgne Basin levee districts.

         Claimants will have an opportunity to challenge the amounts they are receiving by March 29.

         Individual awards were based partly on whether a claimant was a residential property owner, a non-resident property owner or renter in St. Bernard Parish or on the east bank of Jefferson or Orleans parish.

         Other factors include whether claimants were single or a family and the level of flooding. The settlement also includes payments of death benefits, which likely represent the larger end of the payment range. The smallest payments are likely being sent to non-residents who were visiting areas covered by the settlement.

         The money for the settlement comes from insurance policies that the three levee districts held with the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. It will be distributed from three separate funds, based on the boundaries of the three levee districts.

         The 8-year payout delay since the settlement agreement stems in part from objections successfully raised by some claimants that the original settlement could have resulted in plaintiff attorneys being paid most or all of the money. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ordered the attorney payment rules be rewritten.

         So in 2014, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle approved a final agreement limiting attorney fees to no more than $3.5 million, even though the lawsuit actually cost the plaintiff attorneys $13.3 million in documented expenses. Not included in that estimate, Lemelle wrote, were "the tens of millions of dollars of time invested by the 45 law firms which devoted themselves to trying to secure just compensation for the class members."

         The attorneys had agreed to forgo those hourly fees as part of the original 2009 settlement.

         The lawsuit against the levee districts was one of a number of suits seeking damages in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Most were dismissed in a number of different court rulings that basically held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be immune from damages or within its legal decision-making authority under federal laws when it improperly built earthen levees or concrete and steel sheet piling floodwalls and when it failed to maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet along the St. Bernard levees.

         Still active is one major lawsuit that involves damage from flooding in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita — and hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. The Federal Court of Appeals in Washington is reviewing a May 2016 ruling by U.S. Court of Claims Judge Susan Braden, who found the corps liable for lost property values in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward because of the agency's role in building but not maintaining the MR-GO.

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