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Southeast Texas property owners allege state responsible for flood damage

Last updated on May 27, 2020

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More than 30 residents in Chambers County have filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas, alleging that the design of a local highway has caused repeated flooding of thousands of acres of property, including their homes and businesses.

According to the lawsuit, the state’s decision to install a solid concrete traffic barrier in the highway’s median causes flooding on properties along the north side of I-10. While the lawsuit recognizes that the median protects driver safety, the plaintiffs point out that Texas transportation engineers elected to use a type of barrier that retains water upstream rather than letting the water flow downstream.

“The state knowingly and intentionally put a dam in the middle of a highway that runs across natural watercourses,” says Daniel Charest of Burns Charest LLP, attorney for the property owners. “By design, the properties on the north side of I-10 are sacrificed, so a portion of highway on the south side could remain open. While the structure serves public purposes, like maintaining access and enhancing public safety, both the state and federal constitutions preclude the state from forcing a few individuals to bear the burden of providing those public benefits without just compensation.”

The lawsuit notes that Texas courts, including the Texas Supreme Court, have ruled that the government must compensate private property owners for their losses suffered when the state chooses to provide a public benefit in situations like this. With the change in the law announced last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, this will be one of the first tests of the state’s liability to property owners under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case is Richard & Wendy Devillier, et al v. The State of Texas, filed in District Court in Chambers County, Texas. The plaintiffs are represented by Mr. Charest and Larry Vincent, both of Burns Charest LLP, and lawyers from Irvine & Connor, PLLC and Dunbar Harder, LLC. For information and updates about the claims or the case, victims or the public can visit https://highwayfloodtexas.com 

Mr. Charest served as the lead trial counsel for Houston-area upstream property owners upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs who experienced heavy flooding during Hurricane Harvey. In that case, the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled in December that actions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led to the flooding and a taking of private property. The determination of the amount of compensation owed to property owners is pending in current court proceedings.

Burns Charest represents clients in large, complex actions; antitrust cases; oil and gas royalty disputes; environmental pollution cases; mass torts; and asbestos exposure claims. The firm has offices in Dallas and New Orleans. To learn more, visit http://www.burnscharest.com.


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