Home » NEWS » Judge rules contractor liable for levee work

Judge rules contractor liable for levee work

NEW ORLEANS — A government contractor isn’t immune from claims that it performed shoddy work that resulted in the failure of a New Orleans levee system during Hurricane Katrina, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revives claims against Washington Group International Inc. over Industrial Canal levee breaches that flooded the city’s Lower 9th Ward during the 2005 storm.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers claim the firm employed excavation and backfilling methods that undermined the integrity of the levees.

The 5th Circuit reversed a federal judge’s dismissal of claims against the Army Corps of Engineers contractor. A three-judge panel said the company isn’t entitled to government-contractor immunity from liability because it exercised “significant discretion” over its work, without precise specifications from the Corps.

“The Corps did not ‘make’ WGI use the exact backfill material that was utilized, nor did it ‘require’ WGI select the compaction method that was employed. In the absence of reasonably precise Corps specifications, those decisions were made by WGI,” 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote.

Joseph Bruno, a lawyer for several residents named as plaintiffs in the case, said he was “absolutely thrilled” with the ruling.

“All of these (contractors) have been shrouded with immunity. We’re just chipping away at it, one at a time,” he said. “WGI will face a jury, which is absolutely extraordinary.”

A lawyer for the company wouldn’t comment on the ruling yesterday.

The 5th Circuit said the Corps provided the company with “imprecise, and at times non-existent” specifications for what kind of backfill material to use.

“Significantly, the evidence in the record shows that the sole consideration for the Corps in evaluating the backfill was the cost of the material,” Smith wrote.

The plaintiffs filed separate claims against the Corps over the Industrial Canal levee and floodwall failures. A judge hasn’t ruled whether the Corps is entitled to immunity in the case, according to Bruno.


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Megan Wright

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *