Houston Post-Flood Inverse Condemnation Information

What happened?

Hurricane Harvey brought as much as 30 inches of rain to some areas of Southeast Texas. On Monday, August 28th, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers began releasing water from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs in Houston. With reports showing water levels rising more than six inches per hour, officials worried the added pressure could cause both dams to fail, leading to catastrophic flooding in downtown Houston.

While the water release prevented the dams from being breached, it caused severe flooding in several neighborhoods that otherwise may not have been affected. Homeowners in the area are now left with a lot of questions and some very serious concerns.

Attorneys Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm, and Justin Hodge of Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge, LLP held a neighborhood Q&A session on Sunday, September 10, to provide information to local residents, as well as clear up a lot of the misinformation that’s been circulating in the community. You can watch video of the session at the following link:

 

Watch Q&A on Houston Post-Flood Inverse Condemnation

 

Mark Lanier was named the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by The National Trial Lawyers, and in 2017 was inducted in to the National Trial Lawyers’ Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

In addition to national recognition, Mark has earned multiple accolades from his legal peers in Texas. In a statewide attorney survey published in Texas Monthly magazine, he has earned selection to the annual Texas Super Lawyers list since it debuted in 2003, including being named one of the Top 10 Attorneys in Texas.

 

Justin Hodge focuses much of his practice on eminent domain. An area in which he was recognized as a “Rising Star” from 2008-2010, in 2013, and 2017, by both Super Lawyers Magazine and Texas Monthly Magazine.

He represents landowners in condemnation proceedings, not the governmental authorities or private companies taking property. Mr. Hodge has won cases for landowners at every level: administrative hearings, jury trials, and appeals in state and federal courts.

Justin was recently quoted in the Houston Chronicle on this very issue:

“Justin Hodge, an expert in eminent domain at Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, said such cases boil down to knowledge and intent — whether the government knew what it was doing and intended to cause flooding that essentially amounted to ‘taking’ of people’s properties.

‘The government can’t accidentally take your property,’ Hodge said. “If they accidentally opened the lever to the dam or the gates, that would not be a taking — that would be negligence.

‘But if the government intentionally floods someone’s property there would be real merit,’ he said.
Individuals can’t sue the government for an accident. But if the flooding was intentional and knowing, a person can file a claim.”

“‘A lot of folks may be directly damaged by the dam releases but an investigation has to be made into each person’s claim,’ he said. ‘I would caution property owners … not to try to jump in and file something without doing an appropriate investigation.’

He added, ‘I’d caution them to hire a lawyer that’s knowledgeable in this area of the law.’”

Who’s affected?

The following is a list of neighborhoods that may have been affected by the flooding caused by the opening of the dams. Please keep in mind that this list may not be complete.

  • Briar Forest
  • Frostwood Elementary
  • Notingham
  • Piney Point
  • Rummell Creek
  • West Houston/Outside Beltway/Energy Cooridor
  • Wilchester

What is inverse condemnation?

Inverse condemnation is very similar to eminent domain in that both involve the government using your property for its own purposes, such as installing power lines or laying railroad tracks. But while eminent domain involves the government contacting you ahead of time, explaining why it needed your property, and how much you would be compensated for it, inverse condemnation works backwards. In these cases, your property is used with no prior warning, and you are left to request compensation after the fact.

Inverse condemnation vs. flood insurance

Inverse condemnation matters can involve a wide variety of issues. Because Hurricane Harvey and the release of the Addicks and Barker dams involve the flooding of nearby property, many are asking if they need flood insurance in order to bring an inverse condemnation claim. The answer is no. Whether or not an individual has flood insurance doesn’t matter. If you believe you have an inverse condemnation claim, don’t let a lack of insurance prevent you from pursuing it.

What can I do?

Above all else, your primary concern should be the safety and wellbeing of your family. The floodwaters are still receding, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that those filing an inverse condemnation claim have two years from the time the accident happened to do so.