NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A federal claims court judge out of Washington offers a ray of hope for thousands of New Orleans and St Bernard residents who suffered damages in Katrina, mainly due to the now-closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
The judge ruled that the Corps owes millions of dollars to a small group of landowners, a move that could clear the way for others.
By his own estimates, Katrina cost Chalmette contractor Craig Leonard, a half-million dollars in flooded equipment. Most was not insured.
"This whole wall was lined with equipment," he said.
"It was the biggest problem, definitely, I guarantee you," said former St. Bernard Parish President Junior Rodriguez.
The judge found that the Corps could be liable for billions of dollars in damages through a class action lawsuit, but the judge's ruling won't go into effect until after the Justice Department has appealed.
"A higher court will have to decide," said attorney Joseph Bruno.
Claims Court Judge Susan Braden found that the Corps owes Orleans Parish $2.56 million in lost property tax revenue, and she found that St. Bernard Parish could collect more than $893,000.
"It's a sign that there's somebody out there who understands what happened in St. Bernard and the culpability that the Corps had," said St Bernard President Guy McInnis.
Bruno, who has been involved in Katrina litigation for 10 years, said the ruling could have major implications for business owners who weren't able to recover through Road Home program that helped homeowners.
"Let's remember in spite of all the billions that were spent, a lot of people got nothing," said Bruno.
While the ruling out of Washington offers the possibility that dozens of St. Bernard businesses could recover from Katrina damages, it does nothing for those who lost loved ones during the storm. Bruno said while the federal government paid survivors of the 9/11 attacks, Katrina survivors were left out.
"People who died got nothing, businesses got nothing," he said.
While the Justice Department appeals Braden's ruling, Bruno and other attorneys will start assembling parties for the class action suit.
"Those who meet the class definition will be able to participate, but that doesn't mean you will get a check," he said. "All that means is you will do something - you may be able to participate."
Bruno said it could take up to a year for the Justice Department appeal to be decided. He said there are many other legal hurdles to clear before anyone receives reimbursement under this new ruling.