Judge gives preliminary approval to $641.2 million Flint water settlement
A larger public comment process allowing Flint residents to weigh in on the deal will begin next
FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - A judge has given preliminary approval for the $641.2 million Flint water crisis settlement.
U.S. District Judge Judith Levy granted preliminary approval for the deal Thursday, which would settle dozens of civil lawsuits filed after the Flint water crisis.
Thousands of Flint residents affected by the water crisis from April 2014 through 2016 are slated to receive a piece of the settlement. Most of the funds will go to young children who suffered lead poisoning from Flint’s drinking water, which wasn’t properly treated.
Everyone who suffered lead poisoning or Legionnaires’ disease caused by the Flint water crisis would receive some amount of compensation from the fund.
“While final approval remains pending, the settlement can provide people with security that their claims will be heard and not tied up in legal proceedings for an indefinite period of time,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who helped negotiate the state’s share of the settlement.
For anyone who accepts a payment from the fund, the settlement ends civil lawsuits against the entities that have contributed to the fund. For the city and state, that includes all employees and officials accused of wrongdoing before and during the Flint water crisis.
The preliminary approval from Levy now begins a larger stage of accepting public comment on the settlement agreement. She wrote in her ruling that judges aren’t allowed to rewrite or change settlement terms at this stage -- she could only approve or deny the deal as a whole.
“Preliminary approval, therefore, is the first step in the multi-stage settlement process,” Levy wrote in her 72-page ruling. “Before final approval can be granted, claimants will have an opportunity to evaluate whether it is in their best interests to join the settlement.”
Anyone who declines the settlement will have an option of proceeding to trial against the various defendants.
Levy acknowledged some groups from around Flint, including those who protested outside her office earlier this month, may not be happy with the terms. There will be additional steps to carry out for them to discuss concerns for consideration before any money is disbursed.
“The Court is sympathetic to the complexity of these decisions,” Levy wrote. “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 last seven years.”
She next will consider the settlement terms affecting young children and legally incapacitated individuals, follow by the terms for older children, adults and businesses. Everyone who receives settlement funds will be divided into groups and everyone in each group will receive the same amount of money.
Levy hopes to appoint Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah to manage the process of deciding which group everyone falls under and filing claims on behalf of minors or legally incapacitated individuals. A registration form would have to be filed within 60 days of final settlement approval to receive funds.
The preliminary settlement is not the end of all civil lawsuits involving the Flint water crisis. For defendants not included in the settlement, such as the EPA and three other Flint water consultants, trials could begin in June to determine their liability for causing the water crisis.
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