Tag: Flood Damage

Hurricane Harvey Reservoir Flooding

Hurricane Harvey Upstream and Downstream Reservoir Claims Move Forward To Trial

Raizner Slania LLP is representing homeowners who were flooded as a result of the Addicks and Barker reservoir releases in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Both homes upstream and downstream of the reservoirs suffered catastrophic flood damage as a direct result of the actions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are a number of lawsuits against the Army Corps of Engineers to recover damages caused to properties; and, while the federal government has tried to have the lawsuits dismissed, judges overseeing the litigation have kept the lawsuits moving forward.

Federal Government Files For Dismissal

In February, the government filed motions to dismiss in both the Downstream and Upstream sub-docket claims regarding flooding caused by the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The government essentially made three arguments for dismissal:

  1. There was not a constitutional taking of land because the government was “merely acting to mitigate or minimize an inevitable harm to the public” (both downstream and upstream);
  2. Plaintiffs lack a protected property interest in the property purportedly taken. In the downstream case, there is no right to keep land downstream of a flood-control dam free from floodwaters during an extreme storm; and, in the upstream case, there is no right to keep one’s land free from waters backing up from a flood control dam; and
  3. The court does not have jurisdiction over the claims because the case should be brought as a tort, not as a Fifth Amendment takings case (both downstream and upstream).

Essentially, the federal government argued these cases did not represent violations of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from taking private land for public use. In the Addicks and Barker Reservoir cases, property owners claim the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally allowed their homes to flood to prevent catastrophic damn failure from flooding much of downtown Houston. Property owners claim allowing their homes to flood constituted a taking of private land for public use.

Recently, both Chief Judge Braden (presiding over the Downstream sub-docket) and Judge Lettow (presiding over the Upstream sub-docket) issued orders deferring ruling on the federal government’s motions to dismiss until trial.

In the same order deferring her ruling on the motion to dismiss, Judge Braden set the trial for the 15 downstream test properties beginning April 8, 2019, and set various other deadlines for discovery and experts. The government has moved for reconsideration of this ruling, contending (among other things) the court should rule on the motion to dismiss before discovery closes. This motion for reconsideration faces long odds of success.

Although Judge Lettow technically deferred ruling on the motion to dismiss in the upstream case, he (unlike Judge Braden) addressed each of the government’s legal arguments in turn. Judge Lettow found in favor of the plaintiffs in nearly all respects. Two passages of his opinion were particularly favorable for the plaintiffs: In one, he specifically recognized the government “misstated Texas property law” with regard to flood control measures, citing a Texas Supreme Court case recognizing “where the government made a conscious decision to subject particular properties to inundation so that other properties would be spared, as happens when a government builds a flood-control dam knowing that certain properties will be flooded by the resulting reservoir[,] . . . of course the government must compensate the owners who lose their land to the reservoir.”

In his second point, Judge Lettow rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs cannot state a takings claim simply because the reservoirs were built decades ago. Judge Lettow focused on the government’s action in building and modifying the dams “in such a way that they could and did impound storm water behind the dams on both government and private property. That the government’s action bore fruit or had consequences only some years later does not obviate the reality that action, not inaction, is at issue.” Judge Lettow then entered a scheduling order setting trial for the 14 upstream test properties beginning February 19, 2019.

Although neither Judge Braden nor Judge Lettow explicitly denied the government’s motion to dismiss the cases, their rulings are helpful because they allow the plaintiffs to proceed with discovery. Judge Lettow’s opinion in particular gives reason for optimism because he explicitly rejected several of the government’s legal theories. We remain optimistic that the Courts will ultimately deny the motions, and allow us to proceed with trial on a full factual record for the test properties chosen in both cases in the Spring of 2019.

Get Help With Your Hurricane Harvey Reservoir Flooding Claim

The experienced lawyers at Raizner Slania LLP are working with property owners whose homes were flooded by the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. Our lawyers understand the unique legal complexities of each type of claim and are fighting hard for clients to help them rebuild. If your property was flooded, either downstream or upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, call us immediately to discuss your reservoir claim.

Bridge City Hurricane Harvey Claims

Bridge City Slow To Recover After Hurricane Harvey

Residents of Bridge City, Texas were wary as Hurricane Harvey made landfall and slowly made its way along the Texas coast. Flooding has been problematic for Bridge City in the past, but nothing could prepare residents for the unprecedented rainfall dropped by Harvey.

On the night of August 30, 2017, Bridge City was absolutely inundated with floodwaters, causing widespread damage. The past twenty-four hours had seen over 20 inches of rainfall. By the time Harvey was working its way toward Southeast Texas, it was a slow-moving storm, meaning everywhere in Harvey’s path would be drenched in rainfall for several days before Harvey moved on.

Harvey’s flooding was compounded by the fact that trash and debris clogged the city’s drainage system, preventing rainwaters from draining properly. City officials estimate 90% of the flooding in Bridge City was due to its clogged drainage systems. This resulted in homes and businesses being flooded for several days before the floodwaters finally subsided.

Much of Bridge City suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey. After Harvey passed through the small Texas city, the streets were lined with huge piles of debris as property owners immediately began trying to salvage their homes and businesses and prevent further damage. Unfortunately, much of Bridge City is still struggling. Although it’s been more than six months since Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, recovery has been particularly slow.

Hurricane Harvey victims in Bridge City are discovering insurance companies are less than honest when handling and paying out on Hurricane Harvey claims. An insurance company is first and foremost a business, so natural disasters will cause it to pay out millions or even billions of dollars of claims. To minimize payouts, insurance companies often use bad faith tactics.

Insurance companies have been misrepresenting policies, undervaluing damages, and outright denying valid claims. Without proper payouts from their insurance companies, property owners have been financially unable to completely rebuild. For policyholders struggling with a Bridge City Hurricane Harvey claim, the only way to receive rightful compensation is by partnering with an experienced insurance lawyer.

Bridge City Hurricane Harvey Claims

The experienced insurance lawyers at Raizner Slania LLP have helped victims of bad faith insurance tactics throughout Texas and across the country. We are working with many Hurricane Harvey victims to help them get what they are rightfully owed under their insurance policies. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim. There is no upfront cost for working with us. We work on a contingency fee basis so you won’t owe us anything unless we help you recover compensation.

Beaumont Hurricane Harvey Claims

After Unprecedented Rainfall Beaumont Still Rebuilding After Harvey

Southeastern Texas was battered by rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Although Harvey had downgraded from its Category 4 status when it swept through Beaumont, the storm still managed to cause widespread damage. The city received so much rainfall it effectively became an island, making it difficult for people and supplies to get out or in. The lasting effect of this flooding is that the city has seen very slow progress in rebuilding.

Many houses in Beaumont were flooded up to their roofs and residents were forced to evacuate to storm shelters. The situation became dire as rising rainwater continued, completely flooding routes in and out of Beaumont. Multiple highways, including Highway 290 and I-10, were completely impassible via vehicle.

According to measurements taken by the National Weather Service, the city received 49.06 inches of water, with more than half of this rain falling during one day. The rainfall caused such significant damage to the municipal water system that it left Beaumont residents without running water for several days .

Six months after Harvey, much of Beaumont is still uninhabitable and unusable. Homes and businesses gutted by Harvey’s aftermath still await repairs because contractors have been hard to come by. For some property owners, floodwaters sat as high as the roofs for days, making entire properties a total loss. The decision whether or not to rebuild at all has been a difficult one, and some property owners are selling “as-is,” afraid of rebuilding only to be flooded again in future storms.

What the Insurance Companies Won’t Tell You 

The insurance industry has been quick to deny substantial interior damage claims to commercial properties on the ground that the wind did not create an opening in the roof or exterior. But in many insurance policies, interior damage is covered without a “storm created opening.” Whether or not interior damage is covered depends on the language of each individual policy. But too often, the insurance company will outright deny interior damage without mentioning the actual language of the insurance policy. Interior damages can be substantial, and each claim and policy must be evaluated on its own merits to determine whether or not the damage is covered.

Bad Faith Insurance Practices

Part of Beaumont’s slow recovery comes from property owners struggling with their insurance companies. Insurance is first and foremost a business. This means that when property owners try to collect on their policies, many insurance companies use bad faith tactics to avoid paying out on claims. Insurance companies may misrepresent policies to avoid payouts, including representing that certain damages are not covered by a policy when in fact they are. Insurance companies might also grossly underestimate the scope and cost of property damage to minimize payments. However, these tactics aren’t just wrong, they’re illegal. If your insurance company isn’t being straight with you during your Hurricane Harvey claim, don’t wait to get help.

Raizner Slania LLP Can Help With Your Beaumont Hurricane Harvey Claim

At Raizner Slania LLP, our lawyers have the experience and know-how to take on large insurance companies. For years we have helped victims all across the country get their rightful payments under their insurance policies. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim.

Port Arthur Hurricane Harvey Claim

Port Arthur Still Struggling in Harvey’s Wake

Although Port Arthur was hundreds of miles away from Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, the city and surrounding areas still suffered catastrophic damage from Harvey. The storm dropped relentless amounts of rain that caused flash flooding and other dangerous flood conditions.

Unprecedented Rainfall in Port Arthur

According to the National Weather Service, 26.03 inches of rain fell at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport near Port Arthur on August 29, 2017 alone. In total, 47.35 inches of rainfall was recorded in Port Arthur. In the days after Hurricane Harvey hit landfall, the rain continued to cause flooding for Part Arthur residents. A local storm shelter was set up at the Bob Bower Civic Center, but evacuees were forced to move to other shelters as conditions became more dangerous.

Port Arthur gained nationwide attention when news of a flooded nursing home showed residents stuck in several feet of water. Nearly 100 nursing home residents were evacuated by boat. But nursing home residents were not the only ones evacuated from Port Arthur. Thousands of residents were left displaced as rapidly rising floodwaters forced them to leave their homes with little to no notice.

Recovering After Hurricane Harvey

The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was catastrophic for Port Arthur. City officials estimate it will cost $25 million just to rid the city of debris and garbage from the storm. The debris is also causing health problems for some residents. Drywall soaked in floodwaters can quickly develop black mold, and many residents have suffered from breathing problems and rashes associated with black mold exposure. For business owners, recovery has been particularly challenging. In addition to the cost of rebuilding, many business owners are left without a way to generate revenue after floodwaters destroyed their property.

Unfortunately, insurance companies are slowing rebuilding down even further. Hurricane Harvey caused billions of dollars in property damage collectively, and insurance companies are trying their best to avoid costly payouts in the wake of the storm. Many insurance companies are wrongfully denying claims and misrepresenting policies to save on their bottom lines. In some cases, insurance companies are claiming that they don’t need to pay for massive interior damages because there was no “storm created opening,” when in fact the roof was damaged. In other cases, the insurance policy does not require a storm created opening for the interior to be covered, and the insurance company is claiming the exact opposite. Each policy must be reviewed on its own merits to determine what is and is not covered.

Get Help With Your Port Arthur Hurricane Harvey Claim

If you regularly pay premiums, you are entitled to the coverage your insurance policy affords. If your insurance company is delaying, undervaluing, or denying your Port Arthur Hurricane Harvey claim, don’t wait to call the experienced insurance lawyers at Raizner Slania LLP. We can help you get the coverage you deserve.

Houston Reservoir Lawyers

The Difference Between Downstream and Upstream Reservoir Claims

For thousands of homes and businesses surrounding the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall caused massive amounts of flood damage. Both properties upstream of the reservoirs and downstream of the reservoirs suffered catastrophic flooding, but with very different causes. A recent court order for the Addicks and Barker reservoir litigation has recognized there are two very distinct claims being made by property owners.

Upstream Reservoir Flooding Claims

When the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were constructed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created flood pools around the reservoirs. These flood pools would spend most of their time completely dry, but would hold water in the event of major rainfall. Because land inside these flood pools would occasionally be flooded, in the 1940s the U.S. government began purchasing land inside the flood pools.

By owning the land, the government sought to prevent unsuspecting property owners from future flooding. Unfortunately, the government didn’t purchase all of the land inside the flood pools. The Addicks reservoir flood pool consists of land up to 115 feet in elevation, but the government only purchased land up to 103.2 feet in elevation. The Barker reservoir flood pool is made up of land up to 106 feet, but the government only purchased land up to 95 feet.

Land between 103.2 feet and 115 feet in elevation in the Addicks reservoir and between 95.5 feet and 106 feet in elevation in the Barker reservoir was left available to developers, who built and sold thousands of properties. People who purchased properties within this flood pool elevation were not warned they were subject to inundation; and because of this, most of them didn’t purchase flood insurance.

Unfortunately, the full reservoir lands within Addicks and Barker reservoirs were needed during the rainfall brought by Hurricane Harvey. It was only after their properties were destroyed by floodwaters that property owners learned their properties were located inside the flood pools.

Compensation For Upstream Claims

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purposefully flooded the reservoir areas during and after the storm. The water level in the Addicks reservoir reached 109.1 feet during Hurricane Harvey and the level in the Barker reservoir reached 101.5 feet. This means the floodwaters stored in the Addicks and Barker reservoirs exceeded the boundaries of the property owned by the government. Property owners within these elevations did not consent to the use of their property for storing floodwaters.

Rebuilding properties will require a significant financial investment. Property owners looking to sell or transfer their property will likely suffer a massive economic loss due to decreased demand in the area and the diminished value of their property,. Allowing floodwaters to be stored above its own designated property boundaries constitutes a taking of private property by the government for public use. Under the Fifth Amendment, property owners must be fairly compensated for the taking of their property. Property owners upstream of the reservoirs are pursuing fair compensation from the government.

Downstream Reservoir Claims

In 1935, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. These reservoirs were designed to protect Houston from widespread flooding. Unfortunately, by 2009, the dams were deemed to be in “extremely high risk of catastrophic failure.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a $75 million renovation project and was in the middle of renovations when Hurricane Harvey hit in late August.

Ordinarily, the dams on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs are left open, allowing water to flow through. However, during heavy rainfall, the dams are closed and the rainwater pools in the reservoirs. This prevents heavy rainfall from inundating downtown Houston. When Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented rainfall to the Houston area, the dams were initially closed to prevent flooding.

However, after several days of heavy rainfall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grew concerned that the pressure put on the dams by the increased rainfall was too great. They then made the decision to open the floodgates via controlled releases to prevent a total failure of the dams. As a consequence, thousands of properties downstream of the dams were flooded.

Compensation for Downstream Claims

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to open the dams, they did so knowing it would cause widespread flooding. By allowing floodwaters to flood properties immediately downstream of the dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized private property for public use. When the government takes private property for public use without fairly compensating property owners, it is called inverse condemnation. Property owners downstream of the reservoirs are pursuing compensation from the government for the taking of their property for public use.

Houston Reservoir Lawyers

Upstream and downstream reservoir claims are very different, but the experienced lawyers at Raizner Slania LLP are working with property owners on both types of cases. Our lawyers understand the unique legal complexities of each type of claim and are fighting hard for clients to help them rebuild. If your property was flooded either downstream or upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, call us immediately to learn your legal options.

100-Year Floodplain Map

FEMA Reevaluating 100-Year Floodplain Map After Harvey

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made two critical decisions: first, to pool floodwaters within the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs up to elevations above which the government owned, causing enormous flooding upstream of the reservoirs; second, to release floodwaters downstream into the Buffalo Bayou Corridor with knowledge that thousands of businesses and homes would become inundated downstream.

To compound this disaster, most of the flooded properties were not covered by flood insurance. The reason: FEMA determined that regions immediately adjacent to a 70 year old, critical component of the flood control system in the fourth largest city in the country were not in fact Special Flood Hazard Areas. Or more pointedly, the United States government decided that these areas were not at major risk of flooding – – and then decided to flood them.

2017 was a particularly active hurricane season for the Texas Gulf with a 154% increase in the total number of hurricanes and a 142% increase in the number of named storms. Hurricane Harvey brought an unprecedented amount of rainfall to the region: over 50 inches for much of Houston and a record-setting 65 inches for parts of Beaumont. The dramatic hurricane season and the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey prompted federal agencies to reevaluate many of the floodplain designations around the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Many homes and businesses that flooded during Hurricane Harvey were located well outside of the 100-year floodplain established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. These regions are called Special Flood Hazard Areas, and they are subject to a 1% annual chance flood event. FEMA decides which areas are subject to a 1% chance of flooding through its Risk Map program. Only about 20% of the properties flooded as a result of Harvey carried flood insurance, illustrating the trust that most property owners have in FEMA’s assessment of the likelihood their property might be vulnerable to flooding.

The massive flooding outside of FEMA’s 100-year floodplain angered many property owners, who subsequently put pressure on the agency to reassess the floodplain maps. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commonly known as NOAA, has already updated its own potential rainfall maps in Texas and it is currently under peer review.

FEMA plans to use the updated NOAA maps when redrawing the 100-year flood plain, but some property owners are upset FEMA waited until a catastrophic event to reevaluate. Many of the flood plain maps currently used by FEMA have not been fully updated since the 1960s. Unfortunately for property owners, even when these fifty-year-old maps were created, there were extreme limitations. The maps grossly under-estimated the floodplain due in part to a limited data set used by the agency, which included a time period where the Gulf Coast region received substantially less rainfall. The maps also did not anticipate over 50 years of urban development that occurred throughout Houston and along the coast.

By reevaluating the floodplain maps, FEMA will utilize better technology that can more accurately pinpoint areas at risk for flooding. Unfortunately, it will take several years for FEMA to complete the process of updating its flood zone maps, leaving many property owners in the dark as they begin to rebuild.

Most flood insurance is backed by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, and managed by private insurance companies through the Write Your Own (WYO) program. Even though these policies are issued by private insurers, the federal government pays the claims. Most private insurers have left the flood insurance underwriting business, though there are some surplus lines insurers that offer private or excess flood insurance. If and when the private insurance market is encouraged to reenter the flood insurance business in a meaningful way, they will have every financial incentive to do a much better job determining areas prone to flooding. Until then, the federal government will continue to engage in clearly incompetent underwriting, flood mapping, and ultimately losing money and creating a mess similar to what so many West Houston area residents experienced following Hurricane Harvey.

While property owners trying to pick up the pieces after Harvey may not benefit from updated floodplain maps, they do have legal options as they move forward with insurance claims. If property owners have questions about denied, delayed, or underpaid insurance claims or other Harvey related recovery questions, the experienced attorneys at Raizner Slania LLP can help. Our lawyers are working with hundreds of Texans in a variety of different Hurricane Harvey claims. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.