Jan 092020
 

Construction equipment awaits another day’s work on Prytania Street near Nashville Avenue in 2015. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott ruled that the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board is legally responsible for the substantial damages caused to more than 350 Uptown homes and businesses as a result of construction of the massive SELA drainage project.

The court on Monday, Jan. 6, granted the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment, finding the city agency the sole responsible party for claims of inverse condemnation, custodial liability and timber pile-driving claims.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Whitaker, all that is left now is for each claimant to prove the extent of the damage to their property.

The ruling means claimants who provide evidence of damage will have their claims more swiftly decided and judgment entered in their favor. Trial on the next 20 claims is set for Tuesday, Jan. 14. So far, 25 claims have been tried for a total of $3.1 million.

“This procedural ruling is critical and will greatly streamline the remaining claims, leaving to be decided only the amount of damages to each home,” Whitaker said. “The S&WB and its team of high-priced lawyers and out-of-town expert witnesses fought us bitterly for four-and-a-half years, so this is a huge win that should remove any major delays.”

Whitaker, a California-based attorney, is co-counsel along with Bruno & Bruno of New Orleans.

In October, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal decision in favor of the first group of property owners who filed suit after pile driving and other heavy construction caused extensive structural damage to their homes.

Whitaker is optimistic that now that liability has been decided, determination of each claimant’s damages should begin promptly.

“Despite our repeated efforts to settle or mediate, the S&WB has refused to negotiate, causing enormous legal fees to accrue at taxpayer expense,” Whitaker said.

The litigation was initially filed in May 2015.