Flint water crisis trial will test contractors’ liability

The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Jury selection starts Tuesday in a trial to determine if engineering contractors bear responsibility for lead-contaminated water in Flint.

Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, known as LAN, were not part of the recent $626 million settlement between Flint residents and the state of Michigan, Flint and two other parties.

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy speaks as she address one of 15 Flint residents objecting to the $641-million Flint water crisis settlement at Genesee County Circuit Court, Tuesday, July 13, 2021 in Flint, Mich. Jury selection starts Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in a trial to determine if engineering contractors bear responsibility for lead-contaminated water in Flint.

Attorneys for four Flint children claim Veolia and LAN were negligent in not doing more to get the city to properly treat water that was being pulled from the Flint River in 2014-15. Corrosive water caused lead to leach from service lines serving homes, a disastrous result in the majority Black community.

Veolia and LAN deny liability. Veolia said it had a brief contract with Flint, mostly to address other water issues at the city’s treatment plant. LAN, too, said water quality was not part of its assignment at the plant.

“The problems in Flint were not caused by the alleged failures of outside engineers,” attorneys said last week in a court filing. “They were instead entirely caused by the epic failure of the local and state and federal government at every level.”

Nonetheless, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy declined to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial could last weeks in federal court in Ann Arbor.

Michigan is paying $600 million of the settlement with Flint residents who said they were harmed by lead-contaminated water. After legal fees are subtracted, more than $400 million is expected to go to people and property owners who file claims.

There is no safe level of lead. It can harm a child’s brain development and cause attention and behavior problems.