Judge Dismisses Katrina-related Wrongful Death Lawsuit

May 4, 2007

A federal judge in New Orleans has dismissed claims against the government in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of three people who died in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Ethel Mayo Freeman, 91, died in her wheelchair on Sept. 1, 2005, while waiting in the sweltering heat outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for help to arrive in New Orleans.

Her son, Herbert Freeman Jr., sued the federal government, including Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and then-FEMA director Michael Brown, accusing it of causing her death by negligence.

But the lawsuit can’t continue, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled.

“The government has publicly admitted that it made many mistakes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. One can only speculate at this point whether these mistakes caused the tragic deaths of the decedents,” Zainey wrote in a decision filed in court May 1.

“There are claims the court has not ruled on yet,” the families’ attorney Frank Silvestri said. “We intend to press on.”

The courts combined two other lawsuits against the government with the Freeman claim. Silvestri’s firm represents all three families.

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