Plaintiffs unsure if levee breach lawsuit is worth it
New Orleans, La. - Victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita must soon decide whether to join a class action lawsuit that may be their last chance to recover monetary damages. But any checks they receive may be much skimpier than many expect, according to Fox 8 News reporter Jennifer Hale.
The lawsuit notices are now appearing in mailboxes across the region. But for recipient Shannon Evans, they're triggering more questions than answers.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," Evans said. "I just received the letter yesterday about it."
The courts have consolidated many of the lawsuits from hurricanes Katrina and Rita down to one class action, and then tapped 20 law firms – including Bruno and Bruno in New Orleans – to work together to reach settlements.
"This was a difficult, if not impossible task," said attorney Joseph Bruno.
Bruno said it was difficult because the Corps of Engineers is immune to prosecution when it comes to the levees, and judgments against levee boards can not be collected. That leaves few options. But Bruno and his counterparts did find one source of funds: insurance policies covering the Orleans, East Jefferson and Lake Borgne Levee Districts, including $10 million in coverage for Orleans, $5 million for Jefferson and $2 million for Lake Borgne – plus interest – adds up to just over $20 million dollars.
"What this piece of paper is about, it's a notice to everybody that the insurance companies and plaintiffs have asked the court to approve this as a fair settlement," Bruno said. "We can't get any more money, so for us, something is better than nothing."
Depending on how many people join, individual checks could total from $1 to $1,000 for families who lost a loved one. Victims must now decide whether to join the class action, sit out or object.
One potential plaintiff said the amounts aren't really worth the trouble.
"That's very insulting," he said. "We lost a lot of stuff – our houses, but mostly our people."
"That little $10 check – cash it, staple it to the wall as a reminder that this is what our government does for us when they admit they built a defective levee."
The court will hold its fairness hearing on the proposed settlement September 23.
In the meantime, attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case have agreed not to take any fees. The court is awarding the various law firms $3.5 million for expenses, which Brubno said is actually millions less than their out-of-pocket costs.