Reserve attorney expands Katrina suit

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2005

Becnel adding 11 more defendents to storm-related class action



RESERVE — Round two has been fired by Reserve attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. in his anticipated class action lawsuit against a dozen companies he claims are to blame for the extensive flooding in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Becnel was quick out of the gates following the hurricane with an initial lawsuit naming Boh Bros. as the company at fault for the flooding of New Orleans, as it related to the floodwall and levee breaks at three sites in the city.

Boh Bros. followed quickly with a rebuttal to Becnel’s suit, demanding an apology for even naming them in the class action litigation, since they claimed to have had nothing to do with the construction of the named systems.

However just this week Becnel filed an amended and supplemental suit, not only renaming Boh Bros. in the action, but adding 11 other companies in his court filing.

Along with Boh Bros. Construction Co., Becnel has named the following:

Washington Group International, Inc.; Virginia Wrecking Company, Inc.; Gulf Group, Inc. of Florida; Modjeski and Masters, Inc.; C.R. Pittman Construction Company, Inc.; Pittman Construction Co. of La., Inc.; Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc.; Buirk-Kleinpeter, LLC; B&K Construction Company, Inc.; Miller Excavating Services, Inc.; and James Construction Group, LLC.

Becnel’s dealings with Boh Bros. are especially of note since the company attorney told L’Observateur he will file sanctions against Becnel and others who name them in a lawsuit, since he said they

should not be liable for any damages in the case.

&#8220The only two situations where we had anything to do with these floodwalls or levees were in 1999-2000 when we drove test piles near the Industrial Canal, and in the early 1990s when we drove sheeting in the 17th Street Canal. But the test piles had nothing to do with flood protection, and the sheeting was driven completely according to plans provided by the owner, which was the Corps of Engineers,” Michael Riess explained.

Riess said state law prohibits a company being liable when they follow plans and specs, or if a project is over 10 years old. Those laws would protect his company, he claims.

&#8220Mr. Becnel and others are very aware of those state laws, so we don’t see any reason for lawsuits to be filed that include us. That is why I will ask for sanctions against attorneys who even name us,” he said. &#8220This just makes us go through the trouble of dealing with the lawsuits, and they also know there is a year to file anything, so they should not file without due diligence and finding out the real facts.”

Becnel responded by saying he believes the information they have obtained from their experts indicates fraud on the part of Boh Bros.

&#8220We still believe there was negligence,” he said. &#8220I’m not surprised by anything a company says when they are sued. Whenever you see someone accused of murder, they always say ‘it ain’t me.’”

Three breaches in floodwall protection in New Orleans reportedly flooded 80 percent of the city.

Becnel’s suit has been filed in federal court, and the long process of seeking class action status is now underway.

While there are many lawsuits filed by many lawyers around the country, Becnel said a judge will hold a status conference after the named parties answer the suit.

Then the judge will determine if class action is warranted, followed by selecting a team of lawyers to head the case.

Becnel’s suit contends that Boh Bros. work on the 17th Street Levee/Floodwall was flawed in the placing of the sheet piling, and also, that heavy equipment used by the company on the levee damaged the levee and/or flood wall, contributing to the breach.

&#8220We followed the plans and specs,” Riess added. &#8220And the work was inspected and approved not only by the Corps, but also a third party. This work was all accepted more than 10 years ago, so there is no reason we should be liable for anything.

&#8220It’s just irresponsible to file this kind of lawsuit, and now my client has to respond to the allegations,” he said.

Other companies named in the suit were involved in one of the three breached levees at the Industrial Canal, the 17th Street Canal or the London Avenue Canal. Their work included design, engineering or construction, while Becnel also contends much damage was done by heavy equipment used by some of the companies on top of the levees, simply from the weight of that equipment.

Gulf Group of Florida was involved in construction of the 17th Street Canal; Pittman was the contractors on the 17th Street Canal; Modjeski and Masters were the engineers for the 17th Street Canal; Burk-Kleinpeter were the engineers for the London Avenue Canal; B&K Construction was the contractor for the 17th Street Canal; Miller Excavating constructed the Leon C. Simon Boulevard bridge over the London Avenue Canal; James Construction was contractd to flood-proof the Filmore Avenue bridge and the Mirabeau bridge over the London Avenue Canal; Washington Group International was contracted to level and clear abandoned industrial sites along the Industrial Canal; and Virginia Wrecking was contracted for demolition, removal and disposal of the Galvez Street Wharf adjacent to the Industrial Canal.

Becnel said he already has &#8220thousands” of clients who have contacted him to become a party to the lawsuit, and his phone &#8220rings off the hook” everyday with more calls.

A timetable for the suit to be determined as class action is uncertain, Becnel said.