In deciding Sher – the suit filed by 92-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Sher – the Louisiana Supreme Court relied on Webster to determine the cause of property damage when the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately for Sher, it was Noah the lexicographer and not Daniel, the great compromiser.
“Contrary to the court of appeal’s reasoning, this definition (of flood) does not change or depend on whether the event is a natural disaster or a man-made one — in either case, a large amount of water covers an area that is usually dry,” the court opinion said.
The Times-Picayune reported the more about the decision released today in the full story.
The Louisiana Supreme Court today dealt a final blow to the argument that homeowners insurance policies should have covered the damages caused by levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina, saying the disaster was clearly a “flood” that’s excluded from coverage.
The state high court reversed decisions by a state trial court and an appeals court that said the definition of the word “flood” was ambiguous in most all-risk homeowners policies, and by law, the policyholders’ interpretation had to be followed.
The high court said the lower courts should have looked at the “plain, ordinary and generally prevailing definition” of the word flood…
Justice Chet Traylor of Winnsboro, in writing the majority decision, went a step further, saying the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was not actually caused by man, only aided by human errors.
“The flood was caused by Hurricane Katrina, not by man,” Traylor wrote. “The levees did not cause the flood, they, whether through faulty design, faulty construction, or some other reason, failed to prevent the flood.”
The Court’s decision was contrary to the claim of Sher and others reported in an earlier Times story
.Louisiana Supreme Court justices aren’t linguists, but their definition of one solitary word — “flood” — will decide the fate of thousands of insurance claims worth millions of dollars to New Orleans area homeowners.
The state’s high court heard its first Hurricane Katrina insurance payment case Tuesday, and the crux of the policyholder’s argument — one that mirrors many others still trudging through the lower state courts and the federal court system — is that the inundation of 80 percent of New Orleans after the 2005 storm was not a “flood.”
Homeowners have been arguing for nearly two years that the failure of federal flood control structures after winds and rain had subsided was a man-made disaster, something other than the traditional definition of the word “flood.”
The Court’s decision, however, was consistent with the argument of the insurance industry – the cause of the flooding doesn’t change the fact that it’s a flood – and an earlier ruling from the 5th Circuit on a similar case – a flood is a flood.
Sop – naturally – is traveling today but I expect him to add background in comments to this post once he can get on-line.