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Hurricane Harvey Inverse Condemnation Claim Process

“Inverse Condemnation” and Property Damage in the Wake of Hurricane HarveyTexas law may offer avenue of hope to thousands of homeowners, small businesses, damaged by recent catastrophic floods

Although a month has passed since Hurricane Harvey finally moved away from the Texas Coast, many areas of Houston and Harris County remain uninhabitable. Since relatively few businesses (and even fewer homeowners) carried flood damage insurance, many of our fellow citizens are now facing the prospect of financial ruin. There is, however, a little-known aspect of Texas law that may be applicable in some such cases. In property law, this is called the principle of inverse condemnation.

Unlike an eminent domain case or even a “typical” condemnation, where the property owner is being sued by the government to force some “greater public good,” inverse condemnation cases are filed by the property owner (the plaintiff) against the governmental agency (the defendant) that is alleged to be responsible for the loss. Thus, the “order” of plaintiff and defendant in these cases is said to be “inverted.” Before moving into a discussion of inverse domain lawsuits, it will be helpful to recall the following facts:

In the overnight hours of August 26 and 27, officials with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) decided to begin controlled releases of floodwaters that were threatening to cause breaches in the earthen walls of the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs. This decision was not lightly made, since it was recognized that such releases would cause an immediate worsening of flood conditions in the Buffalo Bayou area but, should the dams fail, the resulting surge in water levels would have been disastrous. Faced with a choice of a “controlled disaster” versus an “uncontrolled disaster,” the decision was made to begin controlled releases.

Although the wisdom and timing of that decision will be debated for years to come, the facts remain that 1) the HCFCD made a deliberate decision to release floodwaters to “save” both Baker and Addicks and that 2) the decision was made with full knowledge of the potential for flooding downstream. Having accepted the “lesser of two evils” option, the HCFCD appears to have assumed liability for any subsequent damages.

Historically, the Texas state courts have been more sensitive to the rights of property owners than have the federal courts, where the only “check” on the government’s infringement of property rights is found in the Fifth Amendment’s “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation …” provision. In contrast, Article I, § 17(a) of the Texas Constitution specifically states that:

“No person’s property shall be taken, damaged, or destroyed for, or applied to, public use without adequate compensation being made, unless by the consent of such person …” [Emphasis added]

Although Section 17 contains several exemptions, the “... damaged or destroyed ...” provision means that a property owner is eligible for compensation if it can be demonstrated that such damage can be directly linked to the decision to release water into the Buffalo Bayou floodplain. Since all available data indicates that conditions rapidly deteriorated following those releases, it is almost certain that the state courts will find the HCFCD to be liable for at least some of the flood damage downstream between Buffalo Bayou and the Shipping Channel.

Contact the Doan Law Firm if you were a victim of inverse condemnation

Although there will be some who will claim that inverse condemnation lawsuits are “frivolous” or “abusive,” the doctrine has been recognized by the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court as being a means to provide lawful compensation of a property owner who has been denied “fair use” of his or her property by the actions of another. As with other property damage cases, and light of the tremendous amount of damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, a successful inverse condemnation lawsuit will require a lawyer who is familiar with all aspects of insurance and property damage law as they apply to the State of Texas.

At the Doan Law Firm, we have successfully represented clients in all phases of personal injury and property damage law and we are willing to provide you with an aggressive prosecution of your inverse condemnation lawsuit. We will assume responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial, including witness interviews, arranging for expert witness testimony, and any research that may be necessary to prove the value of your claim in exchange for a percentage of the settlement that we will win for you/.

To recap, inverse condemnation lawsuits may be used in those cases where your property has been destroyed or will be rendered useless for some time. Properly prepared and presented to a court, these lawsuits may be of considerable help to residents of the Texas coast communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Harvey

The Doan Law Firm (833) FLOOD-LAWYER 1 Riverway Suite 2325 Houston, Texas 77056 (832) 835-0000

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