On Thursday, Judge Judith E. Levy of the Michigan Eastern District Court granted preliminary approval to the settlement in the Flint Water Crisis lawsuit. The plaintiffs, including “thousands of children, property owners, and business owners,” sought relief after an April 2014 change in water source and lines caused water in Flint, Michigan to be contaminated with lead, causing health problems particularly in young children.
The $600 million settlement was announced in August after over a year and a half of negotiations. Almost 80 percent of the funds will be given towards minor children plaintiffs, 18 percent is earmarked for plaintiffs who alleged property damage, less than one percent will be given to businesses, and the remaining will go towards programs for relief.
The settlement class is broad, including those who owned property in the area or who came in contact with the water. Judge Levy ruled that the plaintiffs did meet the prerequisites to have the putative class certified and the settlement approved. Under the settlement, minors do not have to immediately submit claims, and funds will be saved for minors who file later, but before they turn 19.
Thursday’s filing said that the court had heard from residents who were frustrated with aspects of the settlement. In response, the order said, “these impacted individuals may join the settlement and still continue in the political process to seek the justice they have told the Court this settlement does not provide … The Court is sympathetic to the complexity of these decisions. Indeed, there may be no amount of money that would fully recognize the harm the residents of Flint have experienced, including their anxiety, fear, distrust, and anger over the events of (the) last seven years. Litigation has its benefits, but also its limitations, and the preliminary approval of this settlement does not affect or preclude other avenues of redress. This litigation—however it concludes—need not be the final chapter of this remarkable story.”
Additionally, the order addressed concerns raised by the Flint City Council, including the need for proof of injury to make a claim, and that the state, Michigan, should contribute more funds which the court said it did not have the power to alter. Flint’s City Council also reportedly asked the court to expand the settlement to allow for payment of water bills, which the court said would be included in the property claims portion of the settlement. The order stated “the court appreciates the Flint City Council’s concerns.”
The order granted the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval of class settlement components and granted a motion by some individual plaintiffs’ to adopt the proposed approval of a wrongful death settlement. It also provided a schedule for the remaining steps in the lawsuit throughout 2021, including a deadline for the motion for final approval on May 27, a deadline for objections on February 26, and a deadline for the claim form on August 26.
Judge Levy explained that this is a partial settlement, and “does not represent the end of the Flint Water Crisis litigation.” Criminal charges were recently filed regarding the crisis against the former Michigan Governor and others involved in the government at the time.