Here are a few notes and thoughts:
From the CS Monitor:
"The government's primary defense is that what we did, it did not cause this, and if it didn't cause it, there is no liability," Mark Davis, a professor at Tulane University Law School, told the Monitor this summer.
The LA Times talks about the monetary award a lot. It notes it will be years before appeals are exhausted, but the compensation could total billions. Note that this ruling would only apply to residents of Chalmette and the Lower 9th Ward. Also from the article:
He called upon the Obama administration and Congress to agree to a universal settlement -- something he said the Bush administration had pledged not to do.
O'Donnell said his team had filed a separate legal action that seeks to cover those thousands of victims in a class-action suit. He noted that the federal government had agreed to universal settlements in past cases in which it had erred, including after a 1976 failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho and the 2000 Cerro Grande fire in New Mexico, which started as a federal controlled burn.
I looked up the Teton Dam failure and found a few things that interested me, like, "On Saturday, June 5, 1976, at 7:30 a.m., a muddy leak appeared, suggesting sediment was in the water, but engineers did not believe there was a problem." Also, on the cause of the dam failure (emphasis mine):
Study of the dam's environment and structure placed blame on the collapse on the permeable Loess soil used in the core and on fissured (cracked) Rhyolite in the foundations of the dam that allowed water to seep under the dam. The permeable Loess was found to be cracked. It is postulated that the combination of these materials allowed water to seep through the dam and led to internal erosion, called piping, that eventually caused the dam's collapse.
From the American Society of Civil Engineers Report on the 2005 New Orleans Levee Failures:
Known soil stability problems played a big role in both with a very similar failure mechanism between the outfall canal failures and the Teton Dam failures. The best thing about the Teton Dam failure:
Today, Bureau of Reclamation engineers assess all Reclamation dams under strict criteria established by the Safety of Dams program. Each structure is periodically reviewed for resistance to seismic stability, internal faults and physical deterioration.
Gee, it would be a nice idea to try doing that for levees.
I still think this ruling will be overturned on "sovereignty immunity" grounds, but it's always nice to reinforce to the rest of the country that had the Corps simply designed and built the levees to spec, most of New Orleans' flooding would never have happened and we'd all be talking about how New Orleans 'dodged a bullet.' If you want to see a natural disaster, go to Buras, LA or Waveland, MS.
UPDATE- Harry Shearer weighs in. Oyster provides quotes from a judge with quite a lexicon.