Fifth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Katrina Claims against Dredgers
In In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, (08-30738 (5th Cir. 2010)) the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Eastern District of Louisiana's findings that Katrina flood victims did not make out a case for negligence against the owners of dredging vessels for damages stemming from the flooding of St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes.
The claimants contended that the maintenance dredging operations done by the defendants (private companies operating twenty-two dredging vessels) along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) caused severe damage to the Louisiana wetlands. The claimants also alleged that the companies failed to perform their work with due care and performed the dredging negligently. The claimants argued that the negligence of the dredging vessels caused the erosion of the wetlands, meant to provide a natural barrier against tidal surge from storms and hurricanes.
In order for a party to state a claim for relief for negligence under maritime law, the plaintiff must demonstrate there was a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, the duty was breached by the defendant, the breach of the duty owed was the proximate cause of the plaintiffs injury, and the plaintiff sustained an injury. In order for the breach to have been the proximate cause of the injury, it must be foreseeable that such an injury could occur if the party acted in a negligent manner.
The District Court dismissed the claimants' negligence petition, stating that the dredging vessels owed no duty to the claimants because the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was not a foreseeable result of the allegedly negligent conduct of any dredging operation vessel. The Fifth Circuit affirmed this decision and stated the alleged negligence and resulting harm was too attenuated to be foreseeable as a matter of law. The Court stated that "no reasonable dredger could have anticipated that its negligence would make the difference between the levee systems holding or failing in the event of a hurricane." Further, the Court reasoned that the dredging vessels had no knowledge of an immediate and pending natural disaster that would affect how they conducted their dredging operations.
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