Flint water crisis led to “anxiety, fear, distrust and anger over the events of the last seven years,” Judge Levy states as she hands down ruling to proceed with settlement

By Tom Travis

Preliminary approval to allow the $641 million Flint water crisis settlement to move forward was granted Thursday  by U.S. Federal Judge Judith Levy. The ruling comes one week after nine state and local officials were indicted, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, on charges stemming from their involvement in the crisis..

In the opening pages of the 72-page federal court ruling,  Judge Levy writes:

“…There may be no amount of money that would fully recognize the harm the residents of Flint have experienced, including their anxiety, fear, distrust, and anger over the events of last seven years. Litigation has its benefits, but also its limitations, and the preliminary approval of this settlement does not affect or preclude other avenues of redress. This litigation—however it concludes—need not be the final chapter of this remarkable story.” [The entire 72-page ruling can be viewed at the end of the article]

The U.S. Federal Court room from which Judge Levy spoke during the Dec. 21 preliminary hearing. (Photo from mied.uscourts.gov website)

And indeed, a “remarkable story” it has been, and will continue to be, as the Flint water crisis weaves itself into the fabric of the historical epic of Flint.

Important deadlines for registration and filing a claim 

The final date to register to be a part of the WCS (water crisis settlement) is March 29, 2021. Upon final approval of the settlement by the court, the final date for submitting a claim is August, 26, 2021

In a phone call on Monday, co-lead counsel Michael Pitt explained residents can get more information on the WCS by going to www.flintwaterjustice.com or by calling (866) 536-0717. They may also email questions to info@flintwaterjustice.com or text keyword ‘Flint’ to the number 47177. If residents need to send documents by fax they may do so at (248) 268-7996.

Pitt explained that notices, a registration form and a packet of information will be mailed out in the coming weeks. If someone does not receive a notice or packet of information they can contact his office at (866) 536-0717.

The company Epiq will be responsible for distributing the notices and the company Archer will be responsible for administering the claims in the WCS.

As Judge Levy stipulated the deadlines in this settlement she added, “The settlement before the Court is a partial settlement and therefore does not represent the end of the Flint Water Crisis litigation. It would allow recovery of monetary awards for persons (children and adults) exposed to Flint water during a specified exposure period, along with property owners, renters, and business owners,” stated on page two of the ruling by Judge Levy.

In a city council meeting Monday, Jan 25, defense attorney Rick Berg said  he expects the notices to begin to go out to the public in the next couple of weeks.

Flint water tower on N. Dort Hwy. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) asked if someone could first register then later choose to “opt-out.”Berg said he did not know. Berg did clarify that someone must register to make an objection to the court.

Other lawsuits pending in the water crisis settlement target Veolia Water North America Operating Services, LLC; Veolia North America, LLC; Veolia North America, Inc.; Veolia Environment, S.A.; Lockwood Andrews & Newnam, P.C.; Lockwood Andrews & Newnam, Inc.; Leo A. Daly Company; United States of America; and United States Environmental Protection Agency and their affiliates.

Judge Levy’s ruling stated, “…even if the proposed settlement receives final approval, the litigation against these Defendants [listed above] continues.”

Michigan United to hold Town Hall Webinar with co-lead counsel in WCS

Michigan United, a social justice organization that describes itself as organizing “to build the power our communities need to win the justice they deserve” will host a Town Hall webinar with the co-lead counsel in the water crisis settlement at 6 p.m. Jan. 28. Those wishing to participate can register at www.flintwaterjustice.com

Water Warrior Pastor Monica Villareal helps to explain the court’s ruling

In a Friday,, Jan. 23 zoom video presentation by Michigan United, moderator Pastor Monica Villareal presented a 34-page Power Point analysis of the court’s preliminary approval ruling. She explained how Flint residents can proceed over the next few weeks and months in the water crisis settlement process.

“Flint residents need to decide whether to participate in the settlement.

If a Flint resident chooses to register as a participant, they may then formally object to aspects of the settlement and set forth any reasons why it should not be afforded final approval.

Participants move forward with litigation against defendants who chose not to settle. June 4th trial.”

What residents need to present for compensation

Judge Levy’s ruling states that, “Plaintiffs are not required to prove legal liability or causation, though certain adult claimants may need to present a medical record linking their condition to exposure to lead or other contaminants in the water. They need only submit the prescribed documents and forms to receive an award.”

Forms and all water crisis settlement documents can be found at a website set up by the court by clicking this link. 

This settlement focuses primarily on compensation for minors in the Flint water crisis,  but adults and businesses will be able to be compensated through it as well.

City of Flint Water department truck working on a hydrant downtown Flint. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Minors who claim an award that exceeds $5,000 will have a trust fund and/or structured settlement set up for them. The settlement provides for legal counsel but clarifies legal counsel is not necessary to file a claim. In addition, $35 million is set aside for minors who “do not immediately file for a claim.”  Minors will continue to be able to file a claim until their 19th birthday.

Requirements for adults to receive compensation

The court’s ruling laid out requirement guidelines for adult’s in the settlement:

  • Owned or lived in a residence that received water from the Flint Water Treatment Plant or were legally liable for the payment of such water
  • Owned or operated a business including income earning real property and any other businesses that received water from the Flint Water Treatment Plant or were legally liable for the payment for such water
  • Were an adult during the exposure period and who ingested or came into contact with water received from the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
  • Between the dates of April 25, 2014 through December 31, 2018, they were both exposed to water received from the Flint Water Treatment Plant and diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease.

Legionella cases monetary award limits

For those who have Legionella cases filed in the water crisis settlement,  the ruling stated, “Legionella death cases – ranges of compensation are known and range between $300,000 to $1,500,000 no matter how many claims are
made in this category.”

EVM reported in 2018 about the discovery of the connection between Flint’s water crisis and legionnaires disease.  McLaren Hospital executives deny claims that they were a source of the outbreak of Legionnaires disease which sickened 90 and took at least 11 lives in 2014 and 2015 and was linked by some sources to the tainted Flint water.

City Council objections are considered in court’s ruling

In mid-December 2020 Flint City Council (FCC) presented a “companion resolution”  that raised their concerns  in the WCS. Judge Levy responded to those concerns from the FCC.

1.That the State of Michigan is contributing insufficient funds
The Court’s response: The court cannot order defendants to contribute more funds than was negotiated between parties.

2. That the proof of injury requirements may be unduly burdensome on some residents of the City of Flint
The Court’s response: The Court investigated this concern: the settlement provides that claimants must complete short registration and claim forms to obtain a payment. There are certain documentation requirements—and where the documents or information can be obtained by the Claims Administrator, the individual claimant need not submit the information.

Councilpersons (l to r) Eric Mays (1st Ward), Maurice Davis (2nd Ward), Santino Guerra (3rd Ward), and Kate Fields (4th Ward) in a 2019 City Council meeting. (Photo by Tom Travis)

3&4. That the proposed Settlement Agreement should more explicitly cover payment of water bills by the residents of the City of Flint; That the proposed Settlement Agreement should allocate Settlement Funds to cover claims for payment of water bills in an amount not less than 2%.
The Court’s response: The funds allocated for the ‘property’ claims will be distributed to those who owned a residence, rented a residence, or were obligated to pay water bills for a residence. That is, the property fund covers any type of economic-loss claim related to the property—whether it be damage to pipes or payment of bills for water. The amount received will be based on the number of eligible claims in this category.

5. Council requests more time.
The Court’s response: Moot as council voted to join the Settlement.

Judge Levy’s 72-page ruling can be viewed here.

Opinion and Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion to Establish Settlement Claims and Procedures (Jan. 21, 2021) (1)

EVM Managing Editor, Tom Travis, can be reached at tomntravis@gmail.com

Author: Tom Travis

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