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Lawyers ask for a big share of Flint water settlement

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Attorneys are asking a judge to set aside nearly a third of the proposed $641 million civil settlement tied to the Flint water crisis for lawyer fees.

They made the request in a court filing this week.  

The State of Michigan and the city of Flint, along with a Flint engineering firm and a Flint hospital, agreed to put up the money as part of an agreement to settle legal damage claims tied to the city’s water crisis.Created by the ill-fated decision to switch the city of Flint drinking water source in 2014 as a way to save the city money, the water crisis exposed the city’s nearly 100,000 residents to drinking water contaminated with lead and other contaminants. During the same period, a Legionnaires' disease outbreak killed at least a dozen people in Genesee County.

The crisis led to scores of civil suits seeking damages, ranging from compensation for children who experienced elevated blood lead levels to people who suffered property damage. 

The filing drew a sharp rebuke from Flint's state representative. 

“It is offensive and immoral that the attorneys in the Flint water settlement want 32% of the settlement for themselves," says State Rep. Cynthia Neeley, “Flint families took 100% of the harm, Flint families should not have a third of the settlement taken from them.”

Michael Pitt is a co-lead counsel in the settlement. He understands some people in Flint may be surprised by the potential size of the lawyers’ cut of the settlement.

“Some people are saying it’s all about the lawyers. The lawyers are the true winners,” says Pitt.

But Pitt insists the request filed with the court this week is “consistent” with civil settlements in Michigan.   He encourages Flint residents with concerns to talk to the lawyers who’ve shaped the settlement. 

“The best decisions people can make are informed decisions,” says Pitt. “If you make a decision based on assumptions and what your neighbor may say and what you may think...it may be the wrong decision.”

The Michigan Attorney General’s office issued a statement saying “the State is prohibited from offering an opinion on the amount sought unless specifically asked by the Court.”

Federal Judge Judith Levy is overseeing the settlement process. It will be up to her to decide how much the lawyers will receive.

Meanwhile, Flint residents have less than three weeks to agree to opt-in or opt-out of the settlement. 

Pitt says “tens of thousands” of people have filed paperwork to be part of the settlement.    

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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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