Louisiana Parish Not Responsible for Property Lost in Hurricane Fire

July 24, 2013

Jefferson Parish cannot be made to pay for belongings lost in a rented house that burned down at the height of Hurricane Gustav while the sheriff tried to put out the fire with a garden hose, a judge has ruled. Damages were estimated at $400,000.

Attorney John Venezia says Garrett and Monica Haab will appeal last week’s ruling by Judge Henry Sullivan.

The Haabs and their three children evacuated to Mississippi for the storm.

Neighbors – including Sheriff Newell Normand, then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and Constable Dan Civello – called the fire department and tried to put out the fire. In a recorded, profanity-laced 911 call, the sheriff tried to get fire trucks to the block, saying that otherwise the whole block might burn.

At one point, Normand said, “I’m sitting out here with a … garden hose.”

Firefighters waited about an hour to respond because the parish suspends all services during hurricanes to protect lives and equipment. Firefighters and other personnel must remain in safe shelters until the worst of the storm passed.

Sullivan found that as well as the general immunity that state law gives public agencies, the parish and its East Bank Consolidated Fire Department were shielded by immunity under the Louisiana Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act.

Sullivan issued his ruling from the bench on Wednesday. Once the judge signs it, Venezia said he will request written reasons and have 60 days to appeal.

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