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Flint, MI– If Flint residents don’t take some course of action in the $641.25 million water settlement, whether it be registering or opting out, they will be giving up their ability to file any future legal claims to the defendants in the case.
And they only have a couple months to decide what they would like to do, and do it.
Attorneys involved in the water settlement held a town hall over Zoom on Jan. 28 to discuss details of what next steps Flint residents must take now that Judge Judith Levy preliminarily approved the water settlement.
The settlement will resolve litigation against the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, Rowe Engineering, and McLaren Hospital, for their involvement in the Flint water crisis.
It prioritizes children, with 79.5% of funds allocated to minors, 15% for adults, 3% for property owners, and 2% for special education services in Genesee County, and 0.5% will go to business and economic loss. The terms of the settlement are detailed in a 71-page agreement which can be viewed online here.
There were multiple protests by residents unhappy with the terms and amount of the settlement, but now that it has been preliminarily approved, residents must decide the best course of action for themselves–and they don’t have much time.
March 29, 2021 is the deadline for residents to register, choose to opt out, or object.
If you want to register:
If you register, this means you are pursuing claiming funds. In order to register, you must be an adult, property owner, business owner, or minor child exposed to Flint water between April 25, 2014 and Nov. 16, 2020. Registration forms can be found here, and there will be a portal to fill them out online or print them out.
The attorneys announced they will also be opening the Flint Water Office starting Jan. 29.
The office is located at 1188 Robert T. Longway, in the strip of offices behind the Holiday Inn Express. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Residents can go in person, following COVID-19 safety protocols, to fill out their registration forms online or on paper.
The information needed to register, at this point, is pretty basic–your name, current address, previous addresses, contact information, etc.
All individuals must file separately. Once you register, it will be determined whether or not you are eligible, and then you will receive a form to make a claim. Attorney Ted Leopold, a co-lead in the class counsel, said that the class counsel would be there to help people with their claims process.
In order to file an objection, you must be registered. You cannot file an objection if you opt out of the settlement.
If you want to opt-out:
If you opt out of the settlement, you may pursue legal action as an individual with your own attorney. In order to opt out, you must send a written request on the form attached as Exhibit 14, which can be found here along with the information requested in that form, “to the address provided in the Settlement Class Notice.”
The attorneys at the town hall, presented risks they suggested residents consider before choosing to opt out:
- If you opt out, you must secure the services of a new attorney. Class Counsel cannot represent individuals who opt-out.
- Paying for legal services including expert witnesses.
- Meeting strict proof of injury requirements to win a court case.
- Waiting many more years for a trial date and final resolution of claims.
- Filing before time limits have expired.
They recommended consulting a knowledgeable attorney before choosing to opt-out.
If you take no action:
If no action is taken before March 29, the attorneys said the residents will not be able to pursue any of the defendants in the settlement for future claims. You could do nothing and still pursue claims against Veolia, Lockwood Andrews Newman (LAN), and the EPA, who are not included in this settlement. But by not registering or directly opting out, you cannot pursue claims against the State of Michigan, City of Flint, McLaren Hospital, or Rowe Engineering.
The deadline to register or submit a notice of non-participation for minors is also March 29.
The settlement allows anyone who was a child (under 18) on the date of first exposure in April 2014, to participate in the settlement program.
In order for the child to participate this year, a registration form must be filed on behalf of the child, along with supporting documents to prove your relationship to the child. To register for a minor or somebody else, the website offers a chart of what supporting documents would be needed to prove your relationship with that person you are registering for.
Representatives of the child may also choose to defer the child’s participation in the settlement, and file a form called “notice of non-participation,” which means you elected on behalf of the child, for them not to participate in the settlement.
If nothing is done on behalf of the child, they still retain their rights to proceed with participation in the settlement, on a “deferred basis.”
This means that the child will have up until the time that they turn 19, to submit a claim. $35 million has been set aside for children who defer their participation to a later time, attorneys said.
“Sometimes it makes sense for you to wait,” Attorney Mike Pitt, co-lead class counsel in the settlement, said. “Other times, it would be important for you to participate immediately. I would think for most children, immediate participation is probably in their best interest, but you have to decide…what’s really best for them.”
Questions and answers:
The audience sent in a number of questions that attorneys responded to in the Zoom chat, and said they would be posting.
Members of the audience asked about testing, and whether or not they need to have certain tests done to qualify. They were told that while having a blood lead test would be helpful, it is not needed, and that they were going to have bone lead tests available to anyone who wants one in the near future.
When asked about how adults could make a claim if their doctors did not explicitly link their illnesses to the water crisis, a concern many residents have voiced regarding the settlement, Leopold said not to worry about that yet, and just to register. He said they will help with the claims process.
One attendee asked if they could claim their water bills, and the depreciation of the value of their home. Leopold said to accumulate their invoices and they could be used in filing their claim. Another person asked if they could use pictures of water bottles to claim funds for them without receipts, and Leopold said that would be acceptable.
The deadline to make a claim is Aug. 26, but before that time, there will be a Fairness Hearing held with Judge Levy on July 12. That hearing, attorneys said, will be available to the public to view virtually.
To watch the town hall and read the attorney’s responses to other questions, click here.