In his recent column, “Maybe lawsuit wasn’t so frivolous,” James Gill suggests that the meager $50,000 settlement announced by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is a “significant vindication” of the levee board’s lawsuit.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the value of the settlement and the way in which it was negotiated only further undermine the lawsuit’s credibility.
First, let’s consider the manner in which the settlement was negotiated. Consistent with the trial lawyers’ game plan, the settlement was discussed behind closed doors and never publicly voted on by the board.
The problem with this strategy — essentially regulation through litigation, or more specifically, behind-the-scenes negotiation — is that it takes people out of the process. Without question, many citizens have grave concerns about how the state will fund coastal restoration and flood protection efforts in the future. That is precisely the reason issues of such monumental importance to the citizenry of the entire state should not be decided by the unelected members of one regional levee board and the contingency fee lawyers who represent them in private settlement talks far outside the light of public scrutiny.
Now, let’s consider the value of the settlement. It is obvious that the Texas-based companies only agreed to a settlement to extract themselves from this case and the plaintiff lawyer’s paradise we know as Louisiana’s legal system. The economic reality is that it is far cheaper for the companies to cough up $25,000 each than it is for them to incur the ongoing cost of two legal defense teams — especially in Louisiana’s unpredictable legal climate where anything can happen, regardless of law or fact.
Finally, let’s consider the practical impact that $50,000 will have on the effort to save our coast. I would venture to say not much. It is obvious that this sum of money won’t even begin to pay a fraction of the levee authority’s legal fees, much less pay for a truck to start moving dirt.
Contrary to Mr. Gill’s assertion, it is clear this lawsuit does not reflect a credible strategy for saving our coast, and it is time for the levee authority to abandon this misguided approach. This fruitless legal battle has generated a lot of headlines and a mountain of legal fees for the lawyers, but not much else.
executive director, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch