Still no relief from dam failure lawsuits leaves residents, attorneys frustrated

Residents are growing frustrated with the legal process after lawsuits that were filed after last May’s dam failures continue to drag on through the court system.
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 3:38 PM EDT
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MIDLAND, Mich. (WJRT) - Residents are growing frustrated with the legal process after lawsuits that were filed after last May’s dam failures continue to drag on through the court system.

Two of these lawsuits were filed by Ven Johnson Law not long after the flooding took place and now nearly a year later, Ven Johnson himself is calling on the state to move quicker to provide relief for flood victims.

“As it stands today, the case against the State of Michigan is currently in the Court of Claims and will not go to trial until 2024 at the earliest,” said Ven Johnson, president of Ven Johnson Law. “Meanwhile, Michigan taxpayers are footing the legal bill with no end in sight. Our tax dollars should not be used to defend the government entities that failed thousands of Mid-Michigan residents, but instead should be utilized to compensate the victims and rebuild the dams.”

Johnson provided an update on the lawsuits during a briefing on Monday. He said that the lawsuit against the state is going to take time and will likely be appealed once a judge rules on it.

Johnson compared this lawsuit against the state to the Flint Water Emergency because he fears that flood victims won’t receive any compensation for years, just like the residents of Flint.

“We all heard about the settlement figure of $643 million or so, not a single cent has been given to the victims in Flint yet, six and a half years later,” he said. That’s not what we want, that’s not what the people of Mid-Michigan need.”

During Monday’s briefing, Johnson called on all Michigan residents to contact their local, state, and federal legislators to urge them to move quicker on the litigation.

Johnson was with a few flood victims during the briefing. One was Carl Hamann, a Sanford resident and councilman for the village.

“The struggle is real, the finances and making it back are real,” Hamann said.

Hamann lived close to the Sanford Dam but never thought that water could reach his house but it did. At one point, there was 51 feet of water inside his home.

“When I said I lost everything, I had to call my son up and say, ‘hey, can you go get me a pair of shoes? And buy me a pair of shoes because I got nothing’,” Hamann said.

Hamann recalled the moment when he saw the Sanford Dam fail.

“I was standing 500 feet from the dam when Sanford Dam let loose, trying to convince my neighbor he needed to get out or we’re both going to die,” he said. “We were going out in knee-deep water as we were driving out of downtown Sanford.”

Now nearly a year after the flooding took place, Hamann said he still has to pay a mortgage on house that is worth nothing and said there needs to be more urgency to get these lawsuits settled.

Throughout the meeting, Hamann echoed what Johnson said and chimed in with his experience serving for the Village of Sanford.

He said that they knew that the dams could fail and that flooding could happen.

“I’ve been on the council since 2006,” he said. “This is something we knew, we’ve talked about it.”

Hamann said he wants to see the parties that are responsible to be held accountable because the people that were affected need help.

“What I see and what I’ve watched through lawsuits is this will take forever,” he said. “And do I think I’m going to get anything? Yeah, probably a gift certificate for McDonald’s for a happy meal but you know what? He’s [Johnson] working with us. We got to help people understand this could happen to any places in the state of Michigan right now.”

Stay with ABC12 for updates to any of the lawsuits filed.

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