Flint, MI– “Are y’all with the news? Because I’m pissed.”
Flint resident Brenda Day, 60, had been waiting outside of the Flint Water Office on Friday afternoon for more than half an hour, and she wasn’t alone. At around 2 p.m. there was a line of people out the door, many of whom were seniors. They were there to register for their share of the $641.25 million water lawsuit settlement before the March 29 deadline.
By 3 p.m. the office had seen more than 100 people. That’s been a pretty typical turn out, according to one of the office workers. At one point, the office ran out of copies of the registration forms and had to make more.
“Why should we have to stand out here like this anyway? We have water bills that prove we lived here,” Day said. “This is ridiculous.”
In August of last year, the State of Michigan announced the settlement, which would resolve all litigation related to the water crisis against the defendants–the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, Rowe Engineering, and McLaren Hospital. U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy preliminarily approved the terms of the settlement in January, giving residents a two-month window to register.
There were multiple protests from residents regarding the fairness of the settlement. Many people argued that there shouldn’t have to be a registration process, or proof of injury requirements. If you lived here during that time, they thought, you should automatically be compensated. Many residents also voiced concerns about how accessible registration and settlement information would be.
But Judge Levy said in her written decision preliminarily approving the settlement that the documentation requirements are “straightforward and reasonable,” and that they “protect the funds from unlawful, ineligible, and inappropriate claims.”
So, those who do not register to opt in or directly opt out by March 29 will be giving up their ability to receive any settlement funds, or file any future legal claims to the defendants in the case.
But the protesters’ concerns seem to have been valid. Many of the people waiting outside of the law office said they had only recently found out that they needed to register. Many didn’t fully understand the settlement. Some said they didn’t have computers, or couldn’t get the website to work, or never got anything in the mail.
Day said she came down to the office after somebody told her that they “saw someone on TV” saying you had to register by the 29th. Day said she doesn’t use computers, so she called the City Council to find out if there was another way to register. They told her to come to this office.
“I had no idea,” she said. “So, I thought I could come and get a couple more people this application, because everybody wasn’t even aware that you got to do this. And so this doesn’t make any sense.”
Day said she even had trouble finding the law office located at 1188 Robert T. Longway. It’s tucked away in the strip of offices behind the Holiday Inn Express.
“There should be signs out everywhere pointing you to the office,” Day said. “And, if you really wanted them to register, it should have been talked about more. Every day it got closer, it should have been talked about more and more and more.”
April Boone was standing in line to make sure she could register for her and her son who she said was heavily impacted by the water crisis, and is currently on dialysis. She only found out about the settlement two weeks ago.
“I don’t have access to computers…I haven’t been paying attention to the news, I’ve been paying attention to taking care of my son,” Boone said.
Miss Morgan said she only found out about the registration deadline when her father called her up a few days ago telling her to make sure she signed up. She said she didn’t get anything in the mail, and when she went to the website, she said it wouldn’t let her register online.
“I don’t watch TV, so I didn’t know until he called me,” Morgan said.
Had she not gotten that call from her dad, she said she wouldn’t have known to come to the office. Morgan, with five children impacted by the water crisis that she needed to register, would have lost her chance to get settlement funds, or take her own legal action against the defendants had she decided to opt out.
After she found out about the settlement, she told her neighbors to make sure they don’t miss out on registering either, and they came to the office the same afternoon. But Morgan said she wasn’t sure how the money would be divided, and that the settlement documents were confusing.
It was Roger Jirikovic’s second time at the office. The first time, he came to pick up an application and get questions answered about how to fill it out.
“The reason I was here before was because the directions were terrible. You know, are you an owner? Are you a landlord? Are you a tenant? Are you just somebody who lived here? Well, they didn’t really break anything down,” Jirikovic said. “So that’s why I talked to one of the representatives, and she said, just make sure your name’s on there, and then when the claim form comes out, it’ll all take care of itself.”
Jirikovic is a landlord and said he got the forms in the mail, but his three tenants didn’t. He brought copies to them, but he said that they were scared to fill them out, and put down their personal information like their social security numbers.
Tamica Southward and her mother were waiting in line to check and make sure they filled out their registration form correctly, and ask questions. They registered online after hearing about the settlement on TV, but never heard anything back after submitting their form, leaving them wondering if they did everything they were supposed to.
Southward said she doesn’t feel the settlement is fair, and called it “a headache on top of a headache.”