Becnel starts Katrina suits

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Potential of $50 billion could result, Reserve attorney says



RESERVE — St. John Parish attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. has begun what is expected to be a flood of lawsuits in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Settlements could eventually run as much as $50 billion, he said.

Becnel filed a class action lawsuit against Boh Brothers Construction Co. on Monday morning in the U.S. Eastern District Court, for the failure of floodwalls and levees in New Orleans that led to the massive flooding damage in that region.

“This is just the first of what will be a lot of lawsuits we will be filing,” Becnel told L’Observateur in an exclusive interview. “So many people have suffered because of the negligence of a lot of parties, and we plan to defend them to the fullest.”

Becnel said the first lawsuit was filed on behalf of four Orleans and Jefferson Parish residents, due to the failure of the hurricane protection floodwalls in Orleans Parish.

Boh Brothers constructed the flood walls, which gave way at three different locations in Orleans Parish.

Floodwalls were breached in the 17th Street Canal, at two places in the London Avenue Canal, and at two places in the Industrial Canal, according to retired LSU Coastal Engineer Joseph Suhayda, who examined the breaches last week.

“We wouldn’t be filing any lawsuits except that we have talked to our experts,” Becnel said.

The Reserve attorney, known nationally for multi-million dollar class action lawsuits against tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies and product manufacturers, expects this to be the first of many other lawsuits.

“The Army Corps of Engineers will be sued, material companies will be sued for supplies in the floodwalls, real estate agencies will be sued for selling homes near those floodwalls, and insurers will be sued for the difference in wind and flood damage to homes,” he said. “I have already had many calls from people volunteering to become the plaintiffs in these suits.”

While the initial lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individuals, Becnel said it will be the basis for the class action suit that could involve hundreds of thousands of people. Plaintiffs in this suit are Colleen Berthelot, wife of/and Jackie Berthelot of Orleans Parish; Heber Dunaway of Jefferson Parish; Eric Anderson of Orleans Parish; and Amy Janusa, wife of/and Michael Janusa, of Orleans Parish.

The lawsuit also contends that failure of the levee occurred because Boh Brothers “placed construction vehicles and other heavy equipment on the levee. It is believed the placement of these heavy vehicles and/or other heavy construction equipment on the Seventeeth Street Canal levee caused and/or contributed” to the levee or floodwall failure.

Boh Brothers officials failed to return calls to L’Observateur seeking comment on the lawsuit.