LANSING, Mich. – Residents and businesses of Flint, Michigan, would be eligible for payments from a victim compensation fund under a $600 million preliminary settlement announced Thursday of civil lawsuits arising from the contamination of their drinking water with toxic lead.
“The residents of Flint were victims of horrendous decisions by the state, its employees, and other defendants that have resulted in tragic and devastating consequences,” said Florida attorney Ted Leopold, who was appointed by a federal judge, along with Michigan attorney Michael Pitt, to lead class-action litigation that combined scores of individual lawsuits.
“While we can never undo the damage that occurred to the citizens and community of Flint, we are pleased that today we were able to secure a measure of justice.”
Under the proposed settlement:
- Flint residents would be eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from a court-monitored victim compensation fund, with nearly 80% of payments going to those who were under 18 at the time of the crisis, which began in April 2014. Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, which can affect brain development.
- Parties to the settlement would include “multiple governmental defendants,” including the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and all individual state defendants, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who left office at the end of 2018.
- The state would create a dedicated fund to provide special education for students who suffer long-term health and behavioral damage from lead poisoning.
- Litigation would continue against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and private firms that were involved in the switch of Flint’s drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Those firms include environmental consultant Veolia North America and engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newman.
- About 65% of the money would go to Flint residents who were 6 and under when first exposed to lead in Flint water, with 10% going to those who were between the ages of 7 and 11 and 5% to those who were 12 to 17. About 15% would go to adults and 3% for property damage.
- Flint residents and businesses who wish to make claims for personal injuries should visit flintwaterjustice.com, according to attorneys involved in the case.
Flint resident: Settlement ‘disappointing’ and ‘not at all satisfactory’
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said “providing relief for the people of Flint and resolving these long-standing legal disputes has been a top priority for me since taking office.”
Flint residents “have endured more than most, and to draw out the legal back-and-forth even longer would have achieved nothing but continued hardship,” she said.”This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the State will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities.”
A more complete, formal settlement, which requires court approval, is expected within 45 days, Nessel said.
“Because the amount to be paid to each claimant will in part depend upon how many filed claims are verified, the precise amount to be paid to each claimant will not be known until the claims process is completed,” according to a summary of the settlement provided by Nessel’s office.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said what happened in Flint “should have never happened, and financial compensation with this settlement is just one of the many ways we can continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families.”
But Flint resident Nayyirah Shariff, director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, called the settlement “disappointing” and “not at all satisfactory.”
“I have seizures now, and because I’m an adult, I wouldn’t probably get even $6,000,” Shariff said. “Who knows what my long-term health issues are going to be?”
Flint’s water crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. It was intended as a temporary, cost-saving measure, but turned out to be a disastrous mistake. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged it failed to require needed corrosion-control chemicals as part of the water treatment process.
Before the 2014 water switch, the Flint City Council had backed a plan to join the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron as a new water source, though members have said they thought the city would stay on Detroit water until the new pipeline was completed.
After Flint River water began flowing, corrosive water caused lead to leach from joints, pipes and fixtures, causing a spike in toxic lead levels in the blood of Flint children and other residents.
Flint switched back to Detroit water in October 2015, but the risk remained because of damage to the city’s water distribution infrastructure.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said the settlement is an “acknowledgment that our people – our children – have been permanently harmed by the deliberate negligence of those who were supposed to serve us.”
While the settlement is welcome, “the demand for justice will not be satisfied until every person who had a hand in poisoning my city be held legally accountable, regardless of political position or power,” Ananich said.
With the help of funding from the state and federal governments, Flint has been replacing all lead service lines within the city. That work, which began in 2016, is more than 85% complete, officials say.
In 2017, a Michigan Civil Rights Commission report said the crisis had its roots in systemic racism and involved a “complete failure of government” in a city where most residents are people of color. Residents had complained for months about discolored, smelly and ill-tasting water before officials took significant action.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy named former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and retired Wayne County Chief Judge Pamela Harwood as mediators in the Flint cases.
Federal mediation involving the state attorney general’s office and other parties has been ongoing, under a news blackout.
Follow reporter Paul Egan on Twitter @paulegan4
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