Early Approval for $25 Million Flint Water Class Action Settlement

In early June 2024, a federal judge gave an initial approval to a $25 million settlement in a class action involving water safety in Flint, Michigan.

Rusty water pouring from tap

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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Published on July 2, 2024

Rusty water pouring from tap

Facts and Issues in the Case

The case involves a class of approximately 45,000 members: property owners, businesses, and adult residents of Flint, Michigan. It focuses on events that occurred during the “Flint Water Crisis,” which began in 2014 when a change in Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River resulted in the city’s water becoming contaminated with lead, Legionella bacteria, and other substances.

In 2016, the Flint Water Litigation class filed suit against Veolia North America, a water engineering company. The class alleged that Veolia failed to identify pipe corrosion. It also claimed Veolia failed to warn government officials about water quality issues, despite having a duty to do so when Veolia agreed to investigate Flint’s water. The class alleged that if Veolia had correctly identified corroding pipes and notified officials sooner, the contamination would have ended sooner - potentially preserving the health of residents and visitors who were exposed to Flint’s water.

In turn, Veolia North America alleged that responsibility for the Flint Water Crisis rests on the shoulders of state and local government officials. Veolia noted that the crisis began approximately two years before it was asked to consult. The company also stated that its recommendations to the city were ignored and that the city withheld data that might have affected Veolia’s conclusions.

The Details of the Settlement

The $25 million settlement was announced less than two weeks before a class issues trial was scheduled. The funds, minus attorney’s fees, are to be split among the adult exposure subclass, the business economic loss subclass, and the property damage subclass. The settlement also includes a payment of $1,500 per minor claimant in the class, for a total of no more than $1.5 million.

The settlement is expected to resolve claims for the entire Flint Water Litigation class or approximately half the population of the city of Flint, according to a press release from Veolia North America.

In the initial approval, U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy said the $25 million deal was adequate to compensate members of the Flint Water Litigation class. Judge Levy also noted the deal was in the public’s interest and certified the settlement class. The judge’s own close involvement with the case over the preceding eight years, plus the participation of multiple mediators, made collusion and other issues highly unlikely, in the judge’s opinion.

Representing the Flint Water Litigation class, attorney Ted Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC said the agreement was “a very strong resolution of the case based on the totality of circumstances we’d be up against,” noting that litigation could stretch on for years - delaying any sort of resolution for class members.

Takeaways for Attorneys

Litigation surrounding the Flint Water Crisis has been complex and far-reaching. In July 2023, engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newman announced a confidential settlement of lawsuits brought by Flint residents surrounding the firm’s involvement in the crisis in 2014 and 2015. The firm also settled with four plaintiffs in 2022 after a jury failed to reach a verdict in a separate case.

The Flint Water Crisis made national news in the mid-2010s, yet journalistic coverage seemed to fizzle out rather than report any definitive resolution. Cases like these demonstrate why: The complex issues and sheer number of parties affected meant that claims related to the crisis went on for years after evidence of lead and other contaminants first appeared in Flint’s drinking water.

In the initial settlement approval, both Judge Levy and counsel for the plaintiff class noted that litigation has been pending for eight years and that a trial could stretch the case years into the future, with no guaranteed outcome for either side. The settlement allows both the parties in the case to reach a resolution and the public to see a clear endpoint for at least some issues surrounding the Flint Water Crisis.

The Flint Water Litigation class was represented by co-lead counsel Ted Leopold and Michael Pitt. Veolia North America was represented by Michael A. Olsen, James M. Campbell, and Alaina Devine.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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