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Flint, MI– As the $626.25 million Flint water class action lawsuit settlement enters the claims process, two other lawsuits, and multiple criminal cases, related to the water crisis move forward as well.
A professional negligence lawsuit against an engineering company can continue per a federal judge’s order, and attorneys suing the United States government are in the process of preparing for trial. Seven former officials facing criminal charges for their involvement in the water crisis also appeared in court this week.
Here’s an update:
Four families are suing Veolia North America, an engineering company hired by the city during the crisis, for professional negligence. These families allege that their children suffered “neurocognitive harms as a result of their exposure to lead-contaminated drinking water.”
In 2014, the city of Flint switched its residential water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River. The water was treated inadequately, resulting in lead leaching into the water.
The following year, the city hired VNA to evaluate water quality. Their report “did not warn the City of Flint that its drinking water was unsafe or that immediate corrosion control measures were necessary to prevent the leaching of lead,” U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy wrote in her most recent court order.
Last year, VNA asked Levy to grant summary judgment–a ruling without a full trial–for their claims, arguing that the company did not owe the plaintiffs “legal duty.”
On Jan. 10, Levy denied their motion in part. She ruled that plaintiffs suing VNA for professional negligence can continue to do so, but only for claims arising from 2015, the year the company began working for the city to evaluate the water quality.
The plaintiffs also had claims from 2014, but at that time, VNA had been hired to conduct of a “system-wide evaluation of its operations, with an eye toward making DWSD more cost-efficient.” Their job, at that time, was not to evaluate Flint’s system, but Detroit’s.
As such, Levy ruled that summary judgment would be appropriate for claims arising from 2014, but in 2015, “once VNA began working for the City of Flint … it owed Plaintiffs a legal duty of care.”
Additionally, Levy wrote that plaintiffs have “sufficient evidence … to permit a reasonable jury to find that VNA causally contributed to Plaintiffs’ injuries by negligently failing to issue an urgent warning to the City of Flint about the impending danger to the health of Flint residents.”
Litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency has also begun moving forward.
Attorneys filed the lawsuit against the EPA in 2016, “alleging that they violated the Federal Tort Claims Act when it negligently responded to the Flint water crisis by, among other things, failing to timely warn Flint water users of the health risks posed by using the water,” said Attorney Cary McGehee during a virtual town hall.
The damages they are seeking in this case are for “personal injury, wrongful death, property damage, and business loss.”
McGehee explained that they had a “huge victory,” after Judge Linda Parker denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case, and ordered that the case proceed to trial.
“I just want to tell you, it’s extremely difficult to sue the U.S. government, OK,” she said. “There are governmental immunity protections that they have.”
McGehee said there are more than 7,000 plaintiffs who are part of this lawsuit against the EPA. Since there are so many, the case will proceed to a “bellwether trial” with a sampling of the claims for the judge to “decide liability and damages.”
“This is just the first trial and the outcome will give the parties an idea of how future trials will go in terms of findings of liability and damages,” she said. “This is typical in a process of the case where there’s over 1,000 plaintiffs and it’s just not practical to try all the cases at one time.”
Fourteen plaintiffs have been selected to participate in this first trial, with two people representing each of seven damage categories:
- Personal injury to young children six and under
- Personal injury to children seven and older
- Personal injury to adults
- Personal injuries causing death
- Property damage claims
- Business loss claims
- Issues related to the timeliness of certain individual claims
With plaintiffs chosen, the litigation has now moved into the “discovery phase,” where parties exchange documents, and conduct depositions (oral statements under oath) of witnesses and parties in preparation for trial.
“So we’re beginning that phase of the case in preparation for the trial,” McGehee said. “That process takes some time. There’s … hundreds of thousands of documents involved in this case, and there will be many many depositions taken as well.”
While no deadlines have been set, she said she doesn’t anticipate that the first trial would take place before the end of 2022.
“We know that it is a challenge to sue the U.S. government but we’re up to the task,” McGehee said. “We want to hold them accountable for their failures in this case and the damage that resulted to you because of them.”
Since it is not a class action lawsuit, claims against the EPA must have been filed within two years of the violation, she said. So for those who did not submit a claim, it is too late to join this particular lawsuit.
However, those affected by the Flint water crisis still remain a part of the class in the class action lawsuit settlement which will resolve all litigation related to the water crisis against the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, Rowe Engineering, and McLaren Hospital.
For those who registered for this settlement, the claims process began on Jan. 12, 2022 and will continue through May 12, 2022. You can find information about how to submit a claim here.
Jan. 12 was also the day that multiple officials appeared in the Seventh Circuit Court regarding the criminal charges against them for their involvement in the water crisis.
Former State Health Director Nicolas Lyon, former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, former aides to former governor Rick Snyder Rich Baird and Jarrod Agen, and former Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells and Michigan Department of Health and Human Safety official Nancy Peeler, are all facing felony charges as of last year.
Each official appeared in court before Judge Elizabeth Kelly for a motions hearing.
Lyon, who is facing nine counts of involuntary manslaughter, each a 15-year felony, and one count of willful negligence, a one-year misdemeanor, is attempting to have his case dismissed “for lack of jurisdiction” according to the court documents.
Kelly did not issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss yet. The court documents say that the court will “take matter under advisement.”