The 5th Circuit Court panel ruled that residents in Alabama and Mississippi cannot sue the U.S. government over formaldehyde-laden trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Hurricane Katrina destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf Coast.
The federal appeals court said the 10,000 residents represented by the lawsuit do not have subject matter jurisdiction to sue the government agency, as the trailers were provided free of charge and residents were under no obligation to live in them.
According to the original lawsuit, nearly seven months after setting up the trailers, the agency started to receive complaints about the formaldehyde smell inside the temporary housing. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Fema notified residents to ventilate the trailers by opening doors and windows, and to seek medical attention if they started to develop health problems related to formaldehyde exposure.
“Because the Mississippi and Alabama emergency statutes abrogate the tort liability of a private person who, (1) voluntarily, (2) without compensation, (3) allows his property or premises to be used as shelter during or in recovery from a natural disaster, the government’s voluntary, cost-free provision of the EHUs [Emergency Housing Units] to disaster victims, in connection with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is also immunized conduct under the statute,” Judge Carl Stewart wrote for a three-member panel. “The government’s provision of the government-owned EHUs, as implemented by FEMA, was voluntary because it was under no contractual or legal obligation, under the Stafford Act or other federal legislation, to provide the EHUs to disaster victims in response to the disasters,” Courthouse News reported.
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U.S. Can’t be sued over FEMA Trailers