Nearly 85,600 sign up for $641M Flint water settlement, but issues remain

Nearly 85,600 requests for money in the Flint water litigation settlement have been submitted, though law firms make up nearly half of the requests, according to a federal court filing made last week.

About 51% of the registrations were submitted by individuals and 49% by law firms by the March 29 deadline. U.S. District Judge Judith Levy granted preliminary approval in January to a $641 million settlement agreement between Flint's roughly 95,000 residents and the state of Michigan, one of the largest in state history.

But the claims administrator has not finished scrutinizing the registrations for redundancies and deciding which are valid.

Flint residents have taken their water crisis class-action legal claims to state and federal courts. A federal judge is reviewing a $641 million settlement between the state of Michigan and Flint's residents.

More than 50,600 electronic and mailed registration forms were submitted by "unique individuals," but officials are still reviewing information to weed out any redundant claims, case special master Deborah E. Greenspan said in the May 27 filing.

Part of the settlement requires that 80% of the money go to children who were minors when first exposed to Flint River water in 2014. Another 18% goes to claims from adults and for property damage, and another 1% will go to claims for business losses.

More than 12,500 claims were filed for people who were children, adolescents or teens at the time of the water crisis, when lead leached from Flint's old water lines and into water that was piped into homes. The city was being run by state-appointed emergency managers at the time for financial distress and failed to properly treat the water for corrosion, according to an independent commission appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Out of the 85,584 registrations, the claims administrator said she had identified 13,315 registrations as "confirmed duplicates."

Almost 1,100 late registrations were received by the claims administrator, but there was no indication given about how they would be treated. 

The claims by the law firms are continuing to cause problems. Greenspan said "substantial numbers of individuals" were registered by multiple law firms, so those issues need to be resolved. Only one law firm can represent a particular individual. 

Attorneys who led the Flint water crisis civil litigation and settlement negotiations have requested a maximum of $202.6 million of the $641.25 million settlement for their services over more than five years of litigation.

The attorney fee proposal, which would cap fees for each individual plaintiff at less than a third, would take $40.5 million, or about 6.3%, off the top of the $641 million settlement for lead attorneys in the case, according to a motion filed in March in federal court.

The plan would then take up to 27% of the remaining $600.6 million, or about $162 million, to be distributed among all lawyers in the case. Levy will rule on the request. 

The attorney fee plan has been criticized by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, which called it a "grossly excessive money grab" that would leave Flint residents with less cash. 

The settlement will affect thousands of people who were harmed by the city's 2014 switch from a Detroit water system source to the Flint River while awaiting completion of a separate pipeline for the Karegnondi Water Authority.