Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 major hurricane that made landfall in southern Texas on August 25, 2017. Harvey is the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States with peak accumulations of 64.58 inches. Harvey was a unique storm because it stalled and meandered over the Texas coast and the Gulf of Mexico for a period of several days . Texas Governor Greg Abbott reported that estimated damages are between $150-$180 billion, most of which is uninsured.
During the unprecedented rain fall, governmental entities made intentional decisions to release water from three dams – the Addicks dam, the Barker dam, and the Lake Conroe dam. The releases of water were devastating to homes, businesses, and properties downstream of the release. The releases are reported to have been necessary in order to prevent wider spread flooding if the dams had breached. Thus, the government made an intentional and knowing decision to flood some properties for the benefit of the public at large. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reported to have controlled the releases from the Addicks and Barker dams. The San Jacinto River Authority is reported to have controlled the release from the Lake Conroe dam.
This type of action fits squarely within the principles of an inverse condemnation claim based on the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution. The Fifth Amendment provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution provides: “No person’s property shall be taken, damaged, or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made.” When the government takes property without first going through statutory condemnation procedure, the property owner’s claim, based on these constitutional protections, is called an inverse condemnation claim.
Locke Lord has an experienced team of condemnation and inverse condemnation lawyers and is one of the leading condemnation firms in Texas. Locke Lord has also worked on some of the leading flooding cases in Texas. Episode 8 of the Eminent Domain Podcast discusses the legal framework for flooding claims arising from Hurricane Harvey.
Locke Lord’s condemnation group understands both the causation and damages questions that will arise from flooding claims and is uniquely positioned to assist in seeking reimbursement for damages caused by the government’s decision to knowingly flood properties.