In the second trial arising from the New Orleans Uptown drainage project known as the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (“SELA project”), an Orleans Parish Court ruled in favor of 16 homeowners who alleged their homes were damaged by heavy construction activity, including pile driving. The Court awarded the homeowners a total of $483,779.97 against the Sewerage & Water Board (“S&WB”), the local sponsor of the SELA project administered by the U.S. Corps of Engineers (“Corps”). After four days of trial, the Court concluded as follows:
(1) the S&WB is the owner of the SELA project;
(2) the S&WB signed an agreement holding the Corps free from fault for any property damage arising from the project;
(3) the SELA project caused new damages, or exacerbated preexisting damage, to the homeowners’ properties;
(4) the S&WB was liable to the homeowners under theories of inverse condemnation and strict liability; and
(5) the S&WB failed to prove that the contractors who performed the work were comparatively at fault for the damage.
In an earlier stage of the lawsuit, a federal court held that three contractors who performed work on the SELA project were not liable for the homeowners’ damages because the contractors performed their work in accordance with the Corps’ requirements. After dismissing the contractors, the federal court remanded the homeowners’ suit to state court. In two subsequent trials, the S&WB again attempted to shift the blame for the damage to the contractors. However, the Court has twice determined after trial that the S&WB failed to prove that the contractors -- who are no longer parties in the case -- had any liability for the damages. This ruling further bolsters the government contractor immunity defense for contractors, which extends the federal government’s sovereign immunity to contractors who perform their work correctly and in conformity with the government’s specifications.