Flint, MI– The deadline to register for the Flint water lawsuit settlement was more than six months ago, but the claims process has still not started.
During a status conference on Oct. 27, Special Master Deborah Greenspan explained the holdup, as well as the progress that has been made to get to that next step. She said she had originally thought the claims process could begin in September, but that “there have been other events that made that not possible.”
”So as we know the claims process has not yet begun. But today we are much closer to being able to start that process,” Greenspan said.
The settlement, announced in August of last year, would resolve all litigation related to the water crisis against the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, Rowe Engineering, and McLaren Hospital.
The settlement 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.
U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy preliminarily approved the terms of the settlement in January, giving residents a two-month window to register. Since then, final approval has still not been granted, and the claims process hasn’t begun.
Greenspan said that before the claims process can begin, there needs to be a final list of all of the registrants. But it’s not a simple process.
So far, Greenspan said she has submitted a report to the court about those who opted out of the settlement on purpose, as well as those who erroneously opted out but had intended to register.
According to her report, 39 people intended to participate in the settlement, but completed the opt-out form by mistake. Greenspan informed Judge Levy of the people who made these mistakes for her consideration of whether or not they should be considered registrants under the settlement.
Greenspan is also working on a report that would list those who registered late, and have been tracked down and documented by the claims administrator, as well as a report on the defendants’ walk-away rights which requires lists of those who registered for the settlement, and those who filed claims or lawsuits separately.
“Once those submissions are in, and the court makes a determination about late registrants and the erroneous opt-out submissions, we will then have a final list of registrants,” she said. “And as everyone may recall, the way the Settlement Agreement is structured, a determination of the final list of registers is the trigger point for starting the claims process…unless there is some other reason to defer it or hold it up.”
In addition to needing a final registration list, Greenspan said the claims administrator is working on testing their system to ensure that people will be able to submit their claims, and everything will be tracked and recorded properly. She said this testing period would take a few weeks.
Once the claims period does start, those who registered for the settlement will be notified so they will be able to start putting their claims materials together.
Greenspan said that those who registered for the settlement online will receive an email notification about the claims process. Those who registered by mail will be notified through the mail.
Registrants will have 120 days from the moment the claims period begins to submit their claims. Once a claim is submitted, the claims administrator will review it and issue a notice to the claimant letting them know if everything is good to go, or if there are issues that need to be addressed.
Greenspan said she thought there may be a complication when it comes to claimants who are minors or children, whose claims must be submitted by a “next friend,” who is typically a relative of the child, or a court-appointed guardian. Those claims may take longer to process, as the claims administrator, and perhaps the Genesee County Circuit Court as well, must ascertain that the next friend is qualified to submit a claim, she said.
“The point is that in these cases, it may take a bit longer for the claim to actually be processed and resolved because there will be an intermediate step,” she said. “I don’t expect that there is a huge number of cases where this will be necessary, but I did want to flag it so that the court’s aware and that the parties are aware that this may become part of the process.”
Another issue Greenspan mentioned has to do with foster children who need claims made for them.
“What I’ve heard from the attorneys who’ve been working to identify appropriate family members or others who can assist in developing the claim and determining whether claims should be submitted, is that there has not been a huge response rate from the people who have been contacted so far,” Greenspan said.
She said she thought it may be possible that people being contacted don’t believe that it is a legitimate inquiry from a lawyer, or may not know why they’re being contacted.
“There are lawyers who are working very hard to try to contact minors or their or their responsible adults so that they can at least consider whether they want to make a claim,” Greenspan said. “So I simply wanted to give that note to everybody here. Keep in mind that this is a process that’s ongoing and there’s a lot of work and a lot of time being spent on this. And it’s not an easy process, and hopefully the lawyers will have some success in reaching people.”