Judge Gives Final Stamp Of Approval On $626M Settlement For Flint Water Crisis Victims

Anna Gustafson, Michigan Advance

Nearly a decade after the water crisis began to devastate Flint in 2014, leaving thousands of people to drink lead-contaminated water in the Black-majority city, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday the state’s historic Flint water settlement totaling about $626.25 million has been formally approved.

Genesee County Circuit Court Chief Judge David J. Newblatt granted the final judgment in the Flint water cases pending in state court, leaving the state to pay $600 million in the largest civil settlement in Michigan history. The city of Flint has been ordered to pay $20 million, while the McLaren Regional Medical Center will pay $5 million and $1.25 million will come from Rowe Professional Services.

“This historic settlement cannot undo the unimaginable hardship and heartbreaking health effects these families and children in Flint have endured,” Nessel said in a statement issued Tuesday. “This ruling provides families with much-needed compensation for the injuries they have suffered.”

The water crisis left at least 12 people dead and thousands of people, including children, with lead-contaminated drinking water in what residents, activists and researchers have described as one of the most egregious cases of environmental racism the state, and country, has ever faced.

Exposure to lead can cause brain and kidney damage, behavioral problems and even death, among a litany of other health problems.

Tuesday’s settlement announcement comes about nine years after emergency management, appointed by Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, tried to save the city money by switching Flint’s water source from the Detroit-supplied Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014. This, however, was done without implementing anti-corrosion treatments, and the old pipes leeched lead into the city’s drinking water. 

Following the switch, Flint residents began to raise mounting concerns about foul-smelling and discolored water that was causing skin rashes and hair loss. A limited governmental response that ensued was a “result of systemic racism,” the Michigan Civil Rights Commission concluded.

“The people of Flint have been subjected to unprecedented harm and hardship, much of it caused by structural and systemic discrimination and racism that have corroded your city, your institutions, and your water pipes, for generations,” the Michigan Civil Rights Commission wrote in 2017.

“When the last of the civil lawsuits and the Attorney General’s criminal investigations are completed, and relief dollars from state and federal sources are exhausted, what will remain is a city and its people who will continue to fight against built-in barriers but whose voices — as a matter of public right — must never be stifled or quelled again,” the commission continued.

Newblatt’s approval this week follows Judge Judith E. Levy, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, giving preliminary approval to the settlement in January 2021. In November 2021, Levy issued a ruling approving the settlement.

According to Nessel, 80% of the settlement fund will be spent on claims from people who were minors when they were first exposed to the contaminated Flint water. A majority of that amount is allocated for claims from children ages six and younger, Nessel’s office said.

Another 2% is to be earmarked for special education services in Genesee County, and roughly 18% of the net settlement funds are to be spent on claims from adults and for property damage. About 1% will go to claims for business losses.

Tuesday’s announcement also comes on the heels of a Friday opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan’s original approval of the settlement.

In December, a federal judge dropped criminal charges that state prosecutors filed against Snyder over the Flint water crisis, and last week the Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed attempts to revive criminal charges against Snyder.

State prosecutors in Nessel’s office said they would continue their appeal.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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