The Long Road Home: Mass Settlement of Katrina Homeowners Insurance Claims in Federal Court
Author: Judge Joseph C. Wilkinson, Jr.
Just as Hurricane Katrina caused unprecedented property damage, loss of life, and injury to a community’s sense of stability and standing, the enormous volume of resulting litigation in the courts of the Gulf Coast region was similarly singular. Like other federal district and state courts of coastal Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana experienced substantially increased lawsuit filings, owing to its location at the epicenter of the controversy over the cause of the wide-spread and massive flooding accompanying the storm. Against a backdrop of longstanding philosophical debate about the best mode of dispute resolution in the courtsspecifically, the degree of judicial emphasis on settlement as opposed to decision-making and trialthe federal trial court in New Orleans, using the case management tools provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, brought tens of thousands of Katrina-related insurance claims to resolution with balance, order, and relative speed and economy, given the extent of the challenge. This Article outlines some of the litigation history and settlement aspects of the court’s process, with hope that that process will never have to be replicated to address any similar future disaster.