Owners of Louisiana nursing home where 34 patients died amid hurricane flooding file lawsuit

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 2:11 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Two nursing home owners who were arrested after 34 of their patients died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are suing the government, saying federal, state and local officials they failed to evacuate vulnerable citizens as the storm approached.

An attorney for Salvador and Mabel Mangano said Tuesday that the lawsuit was filed last week, just before the anniversary of the storm.

The Manganos own St. Rita's nursing home in St. Bernard Parish, a coastal suburb of New Orleans badly flooded by Katrina.

Louisiana's attorney general had them booked for negligent homicide last fall after investigating the 34 deaths there, but the couple wasn't formally charged by a grand jury. No grand jury has been convened because damage to St. Bernard Parish government buildings and the displacement of the parish's residents have hobbled the court system, the attorney general's office said. One is expected to be convened this month.

Attorney James Cobb said any liability in the deaths should be shared by governing agencies that failed to make appropriate evacuation preparations before the storm.

``Gov. (Kathleen) Blanco had an obligation to make sure the state was in compliance with its own emergency operations plan,'' Cobb said.

The Manganos have argued their hurricane plan _ to keep frail residents in place with food, water and generators rather than risk moving them _ was a responsible course of action, and if the levees had held, the tragedy would have been avoided.

So far, more than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the couple by patients injured at the nursing home and the families of people who died there, Cobb said.

The lawsuit filed by the Manganos on Aug. 28 also accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of failing to build adequate flood protection, subjecting the nursing home to 13 feet of flood waters. The property sits 12 feet above sea level, higher than most of the parish downriver from New Orleans, Cobb said.

Kris Wartelle, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti, said the office hadn't yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on the case.

A call for comment from the governor's office wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.