If a group of lawyers and Flint residents have their way, a class-action lawsuit will emerge as the solution to go after government officials responsible for the devastating water crisis.
As The Guardian reported, potentially thousands of Flint residents could join such lawsuits, which could bypass the “sovereign immunity” that shields state agencies and state officials from blame. On Tuesday, hundreds gathered at the University of Michigan-Flint to meet and speak with attorneys involved in the suits, in which damages could reach $1.25 billion.
To date, a minimum of nine lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court since last fall, after lead seeped into the city’s water supply. Targets of the litigation include government officials, a hospital tied to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, and the engineering firm that advised Flint on its water treatment facility. A separate $100 million lawsuit filed by several families is tied to the Legionnaires’ outbreak.
In addition to the various local, state and federal investigations, including the FBI, there is an investigation by the Michigan attorney general that could result in compensation for the victims.
In April 2014, the emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to oversee Flint switched the city’s water supply to the corrosive Flint River. The state of Michigan did not require Flint to use anti-corrosion agents to treat the water. As a result lead, a neurotoxin, and other contaminants seeped into the water through the pipes.
Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist who joined the Flint Water Class Action Legal Team, talked to the audience via phone, as Mlive.com reported.
“We continue to do our activist work, but I have to say…what has made the biggest difference in this community is every single one of you coming out and using your voices and standing up to right and wrong,” Brockovich said. “You have become a model example of how communities need to rally and take care of their people for this entire country. I have to say thank you and how proud I am of every one of you.”
Brockovich emphasized the residents must get water and blood testing. “We will work diligently to provide
information to you so you can better protect your children, your loved ones, provide information about your property, and as I said earlier it is very important that everyone get tested. I can’t emphasize that enough,” she added.
“We were here primarily to inform people about what’s going on, to educate them about the resources that are out there, about what the symptoms and signs can be because everybody is different. Some people are thinking ‘Well I’m suffering from this, but not that so maybe it’s not lead poisoning,’ ” said Flint attorney Trachelle Young, according to Mlive.com. “We don’t want people to self-assess themselves. We want them to get tested and to educate themselves, because when you educate yourself, you arm yourself and you better prepare yourself to deal with the situation.”
“Every week we’re learning of new types of medical conditions that people have been diagnosed with, that have something or other to do with exposure to the neurotoxins in the water,” Julie Hurwitz, a lawyer involved in the three class-action suits, told the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Michael Pitt, also an attorney litigating these cases, believes their solid legal argument — that Snyder and several state officials violated the due process rights of Flint residents — makes the immunity issue moot.
“If there’s a constitutional violation, the governmental immunity does not apply,” Pitt said. “It just does not apply. So we’ve filed a case in federal court … alleging a due process violation that the state of Michigan and its agents created a dangerous condition, and that the state and its actors are liable for the damages caused by this constitutional violation.”
According to a website maintained by the firms spearheading the litigation — www.flintwaterclassaction.com — people who were exposed to the poisoned water are urged to preserve all evidence including water samples, photographs, medical records, blood-level reports, emails and other items. Regarding personal injury, “physical injuries caused by lead and copper poisoning and other water contaminants will be compensable as non-economic damages in the nature of emotional distress, fear, apprehension and pain and suffering,” according to the website.
“On the property losses side, compensation will be recovered for the replacement or repair of service lines damaged by the highly corrosive Flint River water, cost of bottled water, water filters and water filter replacements, medical expenses, compensation caused by lost time at work, cost of hotel and accommodations and loss of property values,” the Flint class action website also noted. Counsel for the lawsuits also say they seek to establish a medical monitoring fund to compensate Flint residents who have ongoing and future medical and psychological problems as a result to water exposure.
WXYZ reported that more than 1,700 people have signed up with the attorneys as potential members for the suit. The U.S. Surgeon General was also set to meet with people in Flint on Tuesday.