Natural Disasters

Army Corps Found not Liable for Katrina Damage

Law shields federal government from liability due to acts of individual employees or agencies

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Five hurricane Katrina survivors seeking government compensation for lost property and livelihoods were dealt a setback this week, as a federal appeals panel absolved the US Army Corps of Engineers from liability for damages stemming from failure of the flood-control system that protects New Orleans.

The panel's decision Monday came as a surprise, in effect upending its previous finding in March that the Army Corps was liable for some damages. The Army Corps has primary responsibility for building and maintaining the network of levees and flood-control mechanisms surrounding New Orleans, and plaintiffs claim that the floodwaters that inundated most of New Orleans in August 2005 – killing nearly 2,000 people, displacing half the population, and causing more than $81 billion in damage – were not the result of a natural disaster but rather of failure by the corps to supply adequate protection.