A federal judge Wednesday awarded close to $550,000 in compensation to a collection of homeowners flooded by the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs due to Hurricane Harvey. The total compensation for all flood victims upstream of the Addicks and Barker Dams could run to well over $1 billion.
Senior Judge Charles F. Lettow of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims split the award among six test cases in the suit.
"As advocates, we were asking for more, to be fair," said attorney Daniel Charest, who served as lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "But when we look back on the amount that was given and sort of gross it up for a per flooded house kind of basis, the numbers are actually pretty good, certainly more than the government wanted to pay and will do a lot to try and really get these people back on their feet."
Rainfall from Hurricane Harvey filled the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs for the first time in more than 70 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately made the difficult decision to open the flood gates on the dams, which resulted in homes downstream of the dams flooding. But that came too late to prevent the water from the reservoirs from backing into an estimated 10,000 homes upstream of the dams.
The first phase of the trial ended in 2019, with Senior Judge Lettow ruling in favor of the test cases and against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That and Wednesday's damages decision opened the door for those 10,000 upstream homeowners to file lawsuits of their own for flood damages.
Charest encouraged all such homeowners to act fast. "The time to file a lawsuit for this type of case — it's called statute of limitations, and it's six years. The six-year anniversary of Harvey is approaching. It'll be August of 2023."
Charest said applying the average award per flooded house across an estimated 10,000 homes could result in a total compensation of roughly $1.67 billion before interest.
"People that have claims should contact a lawyer and get legal advice on how to proceed," Charest said. "They're certainly within their rights to file and proceed, but it's important for them to get good legal advice, because everyone's circumstances are different in terms of how to add up the amount to which they're entitled."