A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Sewerage and Water Board claiming the agency’s failure to maintain the New Orleans drainage system makes it liable for flood damages to homes and businesses last summer.
The law firm of Bruno & Bruno filed a class action petition in Orleans Parish Civil District Court earlier this week that alleges the utility was negligent in protecting the public from flooding. The lawsuit names six representative plaintiffs, including the Sixth Union Baptist Church and a 91-year-old woman whose property was damaged during the widespread flooding of Aug. 5, 2017.
The 19-page document cites multiple problems with the drainage system leading up to the July 22 and Aug. 5 flooding last year. It names the board’s former executive director Cedric Grant and former general superintendent Joseph Becker for omitting facts in the aftermath of the Aug. 5 flooding, as uncovered in WWL-TV’s Down the Drain Investigation.
“The SWB’s actions and omissions with regard to the public drainage system caused Class Plaintiff’s (f)looding-related property damages,” the petition says.
“Despite having knowledge of the defect in the drainage system prior to the (f)looding, the SWB failed to properly warn Class Plaintiffs and the citizens of New Orleans that catastrophic flooding could result from a rainstorm due the defect in the drainage system infrastructure and staffing,” it says.
The document also calls out the S&WB’s claims process for the summer flooding, stating that members of the lawsuit who filed their own damages have yet to received compensation.
There are roughly 785 damage claims filed with the agency, S&WB attorney Daryl Harrison said in a meeting this week. That number is up from the 680 claims reported on by WWL-TV in May.
It’s unclear if those claims include so-called “subrogation” claims, in which insurance companies that have already paid for damages then file a claim against the S&WB to recover their costs and their clients’ deductible.
S&WB spokeswoman D’Seante Parks said earlier this week that 714 individual claims had been filed, not including the subrogated claims from insurers.
The S&WB hired an insurance adjuster to process claims and voted recently to extend the deadline for claimants to file court actions to July 2019. Flood victims had to file a claim to the S&WB within a year of the Aug. 5 flood to retain the right to file tort claims in court.
The class-action petition asks the court to define the class as any property owners in New Orleans who suffered property damage from flooding. The petition states that thousands of residents will qualify.