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Flint bellwether trial closing arguments present very different views of the case to jury

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Steve Carmody
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Michigan Radio

Attorneys presented two very different views of the facts during closing arguments in the Flint water crisis bellwether trial Wednesday.

The case involves damage claims on behalf of four Flint children who claim to have suffered neuro-cognitive problems after being exposed to the city’s lead-tainted drinking water. Lawyers representing the children claim the children have problems with issues including focusing, hyperactivity and emotional self-regulation.

The plaintiffs are suing two engineering firms hired as consultants on Flint’s water system.

After hearing from 43 witnesses during the past five months, the jury is spending two days listening to lawyers summing up their cases.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Corey Stern slammed the defense claim that the companies are not guilty of professional negligence, labeling it “a house made out of straw.”

Stern insisted that, as water system experts, Veolia North America (VNA) and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) should have warned City of Flint and State of Michigan officials of the potential for lead contamination.

The plaintiffs claimed the two engineering companies have "shirked their responsibility,” arguing the defendants “knew the city’s infrastructure was made up of lead pipes.”

However, VNA defense attorney Daniel Stein described that as “pure hindsight.”

Stein told the jury in his closing argument Wednesday that VNA presented “thoughtful recommendations,”

“If people in charge of the water plant had actually had bothered to listen, it might have helped fix Flint’s water problems,” Stein told the jury.

He contended that “politicians and bureaucrats” are the ones to blame for the Flint water crisis. He pointed out that several, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying in person at the trial.

“The Flint water crisis was a massive failure of government at all levels,” said Stein.

Stein also questioned whether the children have actually suffered any health problems or, if they, whether there is any evidence that VNA’s actions are responsible.

Attorneys from LAN are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments Thursday morning, with a brief rebuttal from the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

After that, it will be up to the jury to decide the case.

This is called a bellwether trial since it may serve as a guide for future litigation.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio 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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