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Federal Judge gives preliminary approval to $641 million Flint water settlement

Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio

A federal judge is granting preliminary approval of a $641 million settlement of many of the civil lawsuits tied to the Flint Water Crisis.

The settlement involves lawsuits brought by Flint residents seeking damages related to their exposure to lead and other contaminates released when the city’s drinking water source was switched in 2014. Property owners and businesses are also seeking damages.

In the order released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy admits this is “a partial settlement” and “does not represent the end of the Flint Water Crisis litigation.”

“It does not resolve all of the Flint Water Cases, and the first round of bellwether trials against the non-settling Defendants are currently set for June 4, 2021,” the judge wrote.

But Michigan Attorney GeneralDana Nessel says the preliminary approval brings Flint residents “one step closer” to receiving financial relief.

“While final approval remains pending, the settlement can provide people with security that their claims will be heard and not tied up in legal proceedings for an indefinite period of time,” says Nessel.

Last summer, the state of Michigan announced it had reached an agreement with lawyers representing Flint residents to create a $600 million settlement fund. The City of Flint, McLaren Flint Hospital and Rowe Professional Services agreed to chip in another combined $41 million. 

The money would be paid out to plaintiffs based on a complicated formula which is still being negotiated. Nearly 80% of the settlement is earmarked for those plaintiffs who were young children and minors during the water crisis, from 2014 thru 2015. The percentage of the settlement to be set aside for the small army of lawyers involved has yet to be determined.

“We want every victim of the reckless and harmful behavior that led to this crisis to achieve and receive a full measure of the justice they deserve,” says Ted Leopold, court-appointed co-lead counsel in the case. 

Also in her ruling, Judge Levy acknowledged “some Flint residents...have expressed frustration with aspects of this settlement.”   

Some residents have complained it’s not enough money to compensate them for damage done to their health and property. There are also concerns the system to award damages may leave some people out.  

“Indeed, there may be no amount of money that would fully recognize the harm the residents of Flint have experienced, including their anxiety, fear, distrust, and anger over the events of last seven years,” Judge Levy wrote.

The judge has scheduled a July hearing where Flint residents can express their concerns in court.

The settlement addresses many lawsuits brought in connection with the Flint water crisis.  But not all. 

Lawsuits are still pending against two private engineering firms, Lockwood, Andrews & Newman and Veolia, as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“A team of more than 30 highly skilled and motivated lawyers continue to work to hold the two remaining private engineering companies and the EPA accountable for the grievous harm they caused the people of Flint,” says Michael Pitt, the court-appointed co-lead counsel in the case.    

Levy’s 72-page opinion triggers a process during which Flint residents can object and pursue their own claims. Flint residents now have 60 days to sign up to be included in the settlement program. The process is expected to take months.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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