Houston courtrooms have been witness to over 80 federal lawsuits and two state lawsuits in the months since Hurricane Harvey struck, and plaintiffs’ attorneys are anticipating that there will be tens of thousands more filed in the next several years as homeowners and business owners became aware of how their rights were violated.
When the government made the decision to embark on controlled releases from the Addicks reservoir, the Barker reservoir, and others, the result was over $100 million in damages – and according to a resident of one of Houston’s wealthy neighborhood, the release also caused at least one death.
At issue is flooding that was not caused by Hurricane Harvey, but which instead was caused by the Army Corps of Engineers releasing water from the dams to prevent failure. Areas that had never previously flooded were inundated with water, leaving homes condemned. In a wealthy community called the Energy Corridor, one resident drowned in his home as the releases were recurring, a tragedy that his husband says could have been prevented had there been forced evacuations.
Thousands of Hurricane Lawsuits Expected
At a hearing held in early November, attorneys told federal judges that it was fair to expect that tens of thousands of hurricane lawsuits would eventually be filed against the government. The government is encouraging the judges to consolidate the cases into class action lawsuits, as most of the dam release lawsuits are naming the same entities – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Harris County Flood Control District, and the City of Houston – as defendants. The number of cases that have already been filed have been so significant that the Houston court system added a Hurricane Harvey drop-down menu to their website’s electronic search capabilities.
The judge who is currently handling the Hurricane Harvey lawsuits has extensive experience with this type of case: Chief Judge Susan Braden recently ruled in favor of victims of flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.