Three new parties have agreed to join a massive legal settlement in a class-action lawsuit tied to the Flint water crisis, adding $41.25 million to the pot of money for Flint residents exposed to the city’s lead-tainted water and bringing Flint residents one step closer to financial relief.
The three new contributions bring the total settlement pot to $641.25 million.
The news follows an August announcement that the state had agreed to a preliminary $600 million settlement. At the time, claims against several other entities remained unresolved.
Now, the City of Flint has agreed to contribute $20 million to the settlement fund, while McLaren Regional Medical Center will contribute $20 million and Rowe Professional Services Co.— a Flint-based engineering firm involved in the April 2014 switch of Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River— will add $1.25 million.
The settlement agreement has been sent to U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy for review and preliminary approval, including an as-yet-unscheduled public hearing. If approved, the settlement could be the largest in Michigan’s history.
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Attorneys for the plaintiffs are still suing Lockwood, Andrews & Newman and Veolia, two engineering firms that advised the state and city during the crisis, along with separate litigation against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In a statement, lead counsel Ted Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, celebrated the settlement and vowed to “continue to seek justice against the remaining defendants.”
“While this can never undo the damage that has been done, it is essential that those who are responsible for the reckless behavior that led to this crisis are held accountable,” Leopold said.
Flint’s crisis began in 2014, when the city was under control of state-appointed emergency managers appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.
As the state sought to cut costs in Flint, it approved switching Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the harsher Flint River. But the city failed to treat the water with corrosion control chemicals, which it should have done, and lead from aging water pipes leached into residents’ homes.
When residents complained of foul odors and discolored water coming from their taps, the state downplayed their concerns.
“While no amount of money will heal the wounds inflicted on this community, we are glad to see more entities step up and take responsibility,” Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said in a statement. “The residents of the City of Flint deserve justice and they deserve a resolution to these lawsuits.”
The settlement reserves about 80 percent of funds to pay out claims from people who were children when the city switched its water source to the Flint River.
Lead exposure is particularly troublesome in children, and can seriously damage the brain and nervous system and cause learning and behavior problems, among other issues.
Settlement payments will be higher for residents with elevated blood lead levels.
Eighteen percent of settlement funds will go to adults’ claims and claims of property damage, while 2 percent will go to special education services in Genesee County for “students who suffer long-term health and behavioral impacts from lead exposure,” and 1 percent will go to claims of business losses.
If Levy issues a preliminary approval, Flint residents will have 90 days to register to file a claim. They will then have another 120 days to submit documents to support their claim.
Tens of thousands of people likely qualify to receive money, but it’s not yet clear when residents might get paid, nor how much of the $641.25 million will go toward claims. Lawyers will take an as-yet-undetermined cut.
How much each claimant receives depends upon the size of the pot of money after attorneys’ fees, and how many people claim their share.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called the agreement “just one of the many ways we continue showing our support for the city and residents of Flint,” while Attorney General Dana Nessel called the settlement “the best possible outcome for Flint’s future.”
If Levy grants approval, Flint residents will have 60 days to register to participate in the settlement, a release from Nessel’s office stated. They will then have 120 days to file documents supporting their claims. A separate fund will support people who were minors during the Flint water crisis who fail to register in time.
Flint residents who take a payout would be unable to take further civil action against the Michigan government, its agencies or current and past employees, including Snyder and former Treasurer Andy Dillon.
Learn more about the settlement, including details about how to make a claim, here.