ATLANTA, Sept. 11 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The following article was written by Guerry R. Thornton, Jr., a lawyer in Atlanta and admitted in state and federal
courts. He has handled claims in the $2.5 billion Dalkon Shield Settlement
and the $230 Dupont Plaza Hotel Disaster; he has authored articles in Trial
Magazine and The National Law Journal.
The New Orleans tragedy may result in a litigation explosion related to
victim compensation, insurance, property damage and commercial losses.
Competing claims may also be filed by local agencies for reimbursement
concerning infrastructure losses, rescue and environmental costs. At this
stage, Katrina is projected to exceed the losses sustained in any prior
natural or manmade disaster, including the World Trade Center attacks.
Beyond the strain to our legal system from the vast number claims, the
relationships between our various governments will be put to the ultimate
test: how will our governments accept their legal and moral duties to citizens
most in need, those who lost loved ones and those left homeless. If other
disasters serve as a guide, claims may exceed the liability exposure from any
other prior case. Now, the U. S. government may be the main target under the
Federal Tort Claims Act and other laws that govern dam or levee failure cases.
Based on flood history in America, Katrina appears to have been first an
“Act of God,” a hurricane, followed by massive flooding due to failures in the
levees; relief mistakes may also give rise to liability claims. Because the
flooding was foreseen and predicted, the cause of the disaster could be viewed
as manmade due to design, construction and maintenance errors in the levees.
It has long been known that that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane could cause
severe breaks in the levees. The predictability of the disaster was confirmed
in reports issued years ago by the Army Corps and flood experts in Louisiana.
Yet, the agencies with oversight did not improve the levees. “The Corps had
been pushing for years for Category 5 protection,” says Robert Flowers past
head of the Corps, “but decisions were made to accept more risk.”
The record over the past decade is replete with warnings, studies, flood
scenarios, escape and rescue problems, death profiles, and other dire
projections. Senator John Breaux has stated that “the warnings were there for
years”; the prior head of the Army Corps, James Witt, oversaw reports which
predicted that a disaster could occur; the Times-Picayune newspaper did a
special series in 2002 documenting defects in the levees and the catastrophic
impact on New Orleans should a Category 4 or 5 hurricane strike. The worst
case scenario has been realized, and we must deal with the consequences at all
levels, ranging from the White House and Congress to our courts.
Because the Bush Administration and Congress are setting up relief plans
that may exceed $60 billion, the compensation rights of those most in need
should be addressed. It is essential that our courts be prepared to
effectively handle the onslaught of claims. “Katrina victims need a broad
array of compensation options similar to victims in the 9/11 disaster,
including the right to file suit against parties at fault,” says Guerry R.
Thornton, Jr., a lawyer in Atlanta.
The Bush Administration is providing help to Katrina victims in the form
of rescue, food, shelter, medical and a temporary stipend of $2,000. While
tens of billions in government programs will help rejuvenate the Gulf Coast,
Congress and the Bush Administration should expand their support by providing
a two-pronged legal relief system for victims in New Orleans: 1) Congress
should approve an open-ended “Katrina Compensation Plan” which will pay fair
awards to death, injury and property damage claimants like the 9/11 Fund;
alternatively, 2) Katrina victims should be allowed to forego federal awards
and pursue viable claims against all parties at fault. Less than one month
after 9/11, Congress passed the 9/11 Compensation Fund as part of its effort
to protect the aviation industry (49 U.S.C. 40101) and to provide 9/11 victims
with an alternative to costly litigation. The Fund paid over $7 billion to
9/11 claimants ($1.85 million on average per family). The Fund was a non-
exclusive remedy — 9/11 victims could pursue litigation against the airlines.
A Katrina Compensation program could resolve claims quickly and pay
victims based on the value of their loss. Also, an award program could
provide advance benefits for victims who need immediate help. For instance,
the 9/11 Fund paid an initial $50,000 for families who lost loved ones, and
$25,000 to those seriously injured, over and above the final awards. Beyond
emergency help, such a program for New Orleans victims would not only help
repair severely damaged lives, but serve our interest in fairness and liberty
for all citizens.
The enormous resources of the United States should come to the rescue of
New Orleans residents. Funding for such a plan would be workable in view of
the vast profits now being earned in the oil and gas industry. The plan could
be easily funded via an added tax on gas and oil profits. A few cents per
gallon could raise billions of dollars to compensate Katrina victims.
“In the aftermath of 9/11, we acted quickly to fairly compensate the
richest of the rich; now, we should gather our resources to compensate the
poorest of the poor. This is what American justice is all about; let some of
the worst days in our history be followed by a total outreach to Katrina
victims through a victim compensation plan,” says Mr. Thornton, who will be
lobbying the government for such a program.
A Katrina Compensation Fund would not only provide rehabilitation for New
Orleans residents, but it would improve the image of the United States. It
could have a positive impact on our economy, like a “Marshall Plan” for New
Orleans. Such a plan would improve victim’s lives with awards that would be
used for housing, education, insurance, restoration and many other benefits.
“The need is unprecedented. History supports such a fund. The resources are
available, and it is a matter of public integrity, political will and
answering the call to do the just and right thing,” says Thornton.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
GUERRY R. THORNTON, JR., Attorney at Law, at: 404 933 0298 (cell) or
404 467 1670 (wk); or, via his website: http://www.netlaw.net