Trial to determine if government liable for Harvey flooding

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A trial that could determine whether thousands of Harris County homeowners can get compensation from the federal government got underway this week in downtown Houston.

The two-week trial is focusing on 13 flooded properties serving as test cases to determine whether the federal government would be liable for damages.

Todd Banker is among the 13.

"It was a pretty good financial setback, and in our family, it's significant to my daughter's future," said Banker, who was saving money so his special needs daughter can receive necessary care as she grows up.

"We had water for a week and came back after remediation, started construction, and there's still work to do, so we lived on the second floor," Banker recalled.

Banker, like the other plaintiffs, lived in west Harris County, where homes were flooded after the federal government released water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Residents allege their properties became storage facilities used by the federal government to hold water from the two dams run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Our goal is to win this case. If the government sees they've lost this case, they need to come to these senses and settle. Settle all these cases," said Vuk Vujasinovic, one of several lawyers with clients involved. "The government has known for decades that if we get a big enough rain event, they're going to flood thousands and thousands of homes that are behind those dams."

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice, representing the federal government, say flooding from a storm of Harvey's size was "inevitable."

Harvey caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas and flooded thousands of Houston-area homes.

Judge Charles Lettow, whose regular bench is located in Washington D.C., is in Houston specifically for this bench trial. On Wednesday, attorneys are expected to take the judge to places where the plaintiffs live to show him the scale of the flooding.

If the 13 test cases prevail, it would pave the way for many more flood victims to potentially receive financial settlements.

"We're hoping some compensation will come out of it because we lost a great deal," said Richard Buckingham, whose family lived in a hotel for nine months until their home was repairs. "Things we can not replace, that money will not replace."

The trial is expected to wrap up around May 17. The judge could then take several months to rule.
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