Michigan judge approves $626 million Flint water crisis settlement
- A state judge has approved the $626 million Flint water crisis settlement
- It’s among the final procedural steps before residents can receive compensation from a crisis that unfolded nearly a decade ago
- Lawyers say money could start flowing to claimants by this fall
A Genesee County judge has granted final approval of a $626 million Flint water crisis settlement, putting Flint residents one step closer to being compensated for harm caused by the city’s drinking water crisis.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday that Circuit Court Judge David J. Newblatt has approved the settlement — a final procedural step after a federal judge first approved the settlement in 2021.
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“This historic settlement cannot undo the unimaginable hardship and heartbreaking health effects these families and children in Flint have endured,” Nessel said in a statement. “This ruling provides families with much needed compensation for the injuries they have suffered. I am proud of my team’s tireless work on behalf of the people of Flint.”
A lead attorney in the case said Newblatt’s approval was needed because a portion of lawsuits stemming from the Flint crisis were filed in state court, meaning the settlement needed approval in both state and federal court.
“It’s crossing all T’s and dotting all I’s and wrapping everything up in the settlement,” said co-lead counsel Ted Leopold.
That approval was supposed to happen soon after Judge Judith Levy of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan approved the settlement’s terms in 2021, Leopold said. But a state judge’s subsequent retirement caused delays.
The Flint water crisis began in 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager approved the switch of Flint’s drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an attempt to save money.
Without chemicals to keep lead from leaching out of pipes, the river water corroded city pipes and prompted a citywide water crisis. The crisis also coincided with an outbreak of Legionnaires disease, a type of pneumonia caused by the waterborne bacterial Legionella, that killed at least 12 people.
A number of state and federal officials at first dismissed complaints from residents in the impoverished city of foul-smelling water and of rashes and other skin ailments.
No amount of lead exposure is safe, and the toxic metal is most dangerous to young children, whose developing brains can be permanently affected, leading to lifelong learning disabilities, behavioral issues and other struggles. A 2022 study found a quarter of children tested in Flint had elevated blood levels.
Under the settlement, the state of Michigan is to pay $600 million to compensate residents harmed by the fouled water, with another $20 million paid by the city of Flint, $5 million from the McLaren Regional Medical Center, and $1.25 million from Flint-based engineering firm Rowe Professional Services.
Lawyers who filed the suits are expected to get about a quarter of the settlement funds, although the exact amount won’t be known until a host of fees and costs are deducted.
It’s not unusual for lawyers to take sizable fees in contingency fee civil cases, in which they pay the up-front expenses of litigation with no guarantee they’ll win the case. But some Flint residents and legal advocates had balked at the size of lawyers’ fees and other settlement terms.
Levy, the federal judge, was unpersuaded by their arguments and opted to make only minor adjustments to lawyers’ payouts. The U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday denied an appeal of Levy’s ruling.
After lawyers take their cut, about 80 percent of the money will be reserved for people who were children when the crisis began. Most of that amount will go to residents who were 6-years-old or younger.
Another 18 percent will go to claims from adults, while 2 percent will fund special education services in Genesee County and 1 percent will compensate businesses for their losses.
More than 50,000 people have registered to file claims; a court-appointed administrator is now managing the review process. Leopold said claimants could begin receiving payouts as soon as this fall.
Separate lawsuits are still in play against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two engineering firms that declined to join the settlement.
Efforts to criminally charge public officials including former Gov. Rick Snyder for their role in the crisis have faltered in court, and remain uncertain. Meanwhile, activists are still waiting for the city to complete a lead pipe removal effort that was originally supposed to wrap up in 2020.
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