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Flint, MI– The Flint City Council plans to vote Dec. 14 on the city’s involvement in a lawsuit settlement that would pay $641.25 million to residents affected by the Flint water crisis.
During an impassioned discussion, it was clear council members are still split over whether or not to approve the city’s contribution to the settlement, and some members are unhappy with the settlement entirely.
In August, the state reached an agreement to settle all Flint water civil cases against the state and its employees. The settlement requires the state of Michigan pay $600 million into a qualified settlement fund to help those who were injured by lead-tainted water.
Last month, the City of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services signed on to the settlement, increasing the funds from $600 million to $641.2 million. Flint’s contribution, which would come from the city’s insurance and not tax dollars, is $20 million. The council has yet to approve that contribution.
Attorney Rick Berg, one of the attorneys representing the City of Flint, said if the council doesn’t vote for the city to be in the settlement, the state will move on without them, and could end up costing residents more. He spoke about this last week on a Zoom call with other attorneys and answered questions from residents.
Berg urged council members to approve the city joining the settlement to potentially save the city billions of dollars.
“The plaintiffs want to get money from the city and if they win there will be crippling liability,” he said. “There will be millions upon millions upon millions, if not billions of dollars that the city would be exposed to in liability. We have succeeded in avoiding that possibility…by negotiation the $20 million settlement, which by the way the city is not going to pay for now. It’s all insurance.”
Councilman Eric Mays asked why, if it could cost the city “millions and billions,” Flint was settling for around $600 million, and argued that there weren’t just two options as Berg said.
Berg said the council can vote in favor of joining the settlement and get out of the lawsuit, or they can vote against joining the settlement and stay in a costly lawsuit for several years.
Mays said the city “should have filed a third-party, or a counter-suit, or a combination thereof against the state.”
Still, Berg said this settlement was “a better alternative than going through trial.”
“That’s how compromises work,” he said.
Mays also took issue with the formula for dispersing the settlement funds, which would allocate 15% of the money to adults who could show proof of personal injury due to lead poisoning. Mays called it a “civil rights violation.”
“When do you need personal injury documentation for race indiscrimination?” Mays asked. “When do you need personal injury documentation for embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress?”
Berg has said previously that the formula favors dispersing funds to children, who are more impacted by lead poisoning.
At the previous council meeting Nov. 23, Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter and Councilman Maurice Davis said they would not be voting to approve the city joining the settlement.
Council President Kate Fields, Councilwoman Eva Worthing and Councilman Santino Guerra had already left this meeting by the time this came up in discussion.
After the Nov. 30 meeting went past 2 a.m. the council decided to recess the meeting and pick up the discussion Thursday, Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m.