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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Federal judge says she's putting the "pedal to the metal" on Flint water crisis settlement

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steve carmody
/
Michigan Radio

During a court hearing on Monday, a federal judge said she expects to decide by next month whether to approve a massive legal settlement of claims tied to the Flint water crisis.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy says the $641 million master agreement is among the most complex settlement she has ever seen. The complexity of the deal could be surmised by the more than 140 lawyers on the Zoom hearing.  

Under the settlement, the state of Michigan, McLaren-Flint Hospital, a local Flint engineering firm and the city of Flint would contribute to the settlement fund.  The Flint city council must still agree to authorize the city’s $20 million share of the settlement. The council has until the end of the month to approve, otherwise the city could face millions more in liabilities in court.

The bulk of the money, nearly 80%, would go to children under the age of six during the crisis. Young children are among those most at risk of suffering long-term health problems tied to exposure to lead. Money would also be available for adults and others impacted by the Flint water crisis.

The settlement has been criticized for not providing enough to those hurt by the crisis, but it’s also seen as their only remaining path to justice.   

Despite more than a dozen state and local officials being indicted for their roles in the Flint water crisis, none spent a day in jail. While half reached plea deals with prosecutors, charges were eventually dropped against the rest. The Michigan attorney general’s office insists the criminal investigation continues.

If Judge Levy gives her approval to the settlement agreement in January, it is the beginning, not the end of the process.

Lawyers representing plaintiffs can raise objections to specifics in the settlement and those who’ve agreed to the settlement will also be able to opt out.

For example, an attorney representing more than two dozen adults who recovered from Legionnaires' Disease during the water crisis is concerned they will not receive adequate compensation.

Corey Stern admits the master settlement is “not perfect.” But as one of the attorneys representing thousands of Flint residents Stern insists it’s “very, very good.”

“The amount of money that will flow to children in this settlement will forever change the trajectory of their lives,” says Stern. 

The settlement’s legal process is expected to take months to complete.

Also, the settlement does not include all parties being sued for their role in Flint’s water crisis. 

Lawsuits against two major engineering firms consulted as part of the city’s water switch and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are still making their way through the legal system. Some major banks are also being sued.

Judge Levy says the first civil trials could begin next June.

It's been nearly seven years since the city of Flint's drinking water source was switched to the Flint River.  

Many city residents have waited since 2014 to receive compensation for damage to their health and their homes and businesses. 

Judge Levy says she is putting "the pedal to the metal" on the settlement agreement.  

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