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Michigan settles Flint civil lawsuits for $600M, most to go toward Flint children

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan will pay $600 million to people harmed in the Flint Water Crisis, with the majority of the settlement going to claims from Flint children, Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed Thursday.

The settlement releases from civil liability all state employees who were subjects of the civil suits, including Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon, a Democrat.

Roughly 80% of the settlement will go toward individuals who were still minors at the time of the lead contamination. About 65% will go toward claims from children below the age of six, 10% for kids ages 7-11, and 5% for youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

More: Settlement includes $9 million to overhaul special education

MoreGetting cash to take months; claims process awaits approval

Roughly 2% will go toward special education in Genesee County and 18% of the net settlement funds will go to adults for damaged property, according to the Attorney General's Department. 

Less than 1% will go toward businesses that experienced losses as a result of the crisis. 

The $600 million settlement plus the roughly $409 million already spent on the Flint water crisis will bring the state's total Flint-related expenditures to more than $1 billion. The settlement is expected to require an appropriation by the Legislature and the approval of several judges.

The settlement, one of the largest in Michigan's history, will resolve more than 100 cases in state, federal and appellate courts involving tens of thousands of people, Nessel said in a statement.

Negotiations attempting to resolve the civil suit have lasted roughly 18 months. 

The City of Flint Water Plant is illuminated by moonlight on January 23, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. The state of Michigan has reached a preliminary settlement of $600 million in civil lawsuits linked to the lead-contaminated water in Flint. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

“Flint residents have endured more than most, and to draw out the legal back-and-forth even longer would have achieved nothing but continued hardship," Nessel said in a Thursday statement. "This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the state will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities."

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reiterated that the lead contamination should have never happened, adding that the financial compensation is one of many ways "we can continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families."

"We acknowledge that this settlement may not completely provide all that Flint needs, and that many will still feel justifiable frustration with a system and structure that at times is not adequate to fully address what has happened to people in Flint over the last six years," Whitmer said in a Thursday statement. "We hear and respect those voices and understand that healing Flint will take a long time, but our ongoing efforts and today’s settlement announcement are important steps in helping all of us move forward." 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped uncover the spread of lead poisoning in Flint's children, welcomed the settlement as "restorative justice" that "is critical to the health and recovery" of many Flint children and residents.

"This isn’t the end of the story," said Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Michigan State University-Hurley Children's Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative. "Healing wounds and restoring trust will take decades and long-term resources. I am hopeful this settlement serves as a reminder of Flint’s lessons; where the perfect storm of environmental injustice, indifferent bureaucracy, lost democracy and austerity, compounded by decades of racism and deindustrialization left a city powerless and forgotten."

The announcement of a settlement after five years of litigation marks "a historic day" that reflects a "monumental team effort," said Micheal Pitt, interim class counsel for Flint plaintiffs. 

"Although the settlement is not perfect, overall it is very good," Pitt said. "It is a fair settlement. We believe fervently it is in the best interest of the Flint community. We should not ever let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The interim class counsel recommended the settlement to residents, but noted "nobody will be forced to participate in this compensation."

About 28,000 people are involved in the litigation, but the number of claimants likely is larger, Ted Leopold, interim co-lead counsel in the case. The population of Flint at the time of water crisis was roughly 100,000, with 28,000 to 30,000 minors included in the city's population, he said. 

Pitt and Leopold said the settlement cut for the 20 to 30 lawyers involved in the case has not yet been decided. 

The settlement does not include an agreement with engineering firms Veolia North American or Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pitt said. Those lawsuits are ongoing.

The state also is suing engineering firms Veolia and LAN for their work during the switch to Flint River water in 2014.Nessel had speculated in the past that any settlement with the engineering firms could offset what the state paid to plaintiffs in the civil cases. 

The settlement is expected to take about 45 days to finalize. People can submit claims if, between April 25, 2014 and the day the settlement agreement is signed, they inhabited or owned a home or business that received water from the Flint Water Treatment Plant, or ingested or had contact with the plant water. 

People who were exposed to the plant water and diagnosed with Legionnaire's Disease between April 25, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2016, also are eligible to file a claim. 

People are eligible to recover property losses if they owned or rented Flint property that received Flint water between April 25, 2014 and July 31, 2016.

All Flint youth who were minors at the time of first exposure can receive compensation. But those minors showing injury, living in a home served by a lead service line, or with elevated blood and bone lead levels will receive larger compensation amounts.

Adults showing injury during the exposure period can also receive compensation.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, welcomed the news, but said justice won't be done until criminal charges are refiled against officials who contributed to the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water.

"This settlement represents a meaningful step toward justice for the people of Flint. More important than the money is the acknowledgment that our people – our children – have been permanently harmed by the deliberate negligence of those who were supposed to serve us," Ananich said in a statement.

"The settlement is welcome news, but I have said from the very beginning that the demand for justice will not be satisfied until every person who had a hand in poisoning my city be held legally accountable, regardless of political position or power.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com