Flint Michigan Turns to Legal Action for Accountability in Water CrisisFeb 15, 2016
The city of Flint, Michigan is struggling with a water crisis that has exposed tens of thousands of residents to highly toxic lead in their tap water. The water is particularly dangerous to children, who may suffer irreversible problems including lower IQ, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems.
Residents want accountability and they are turning to the courts for help. Class-action lawsuits are almost certainly the route to take, according to the Washington Post, and suits have already been filed, focusing on the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services, the state of Michigan and its agencies.
The Post explains that corporations and governments will evade responsibility for environmental and public health crises until citizens, with the help of doctors and lawyers, are able to gather the evidence to prove the harm they have suffered. If the plaintiffs in a civil suit can prove that a "preponderance," or majority, of the evidence demonstrates liability, defendants are held responsible and are required to provide financial compensation. But the situation in Flint is complicated by the fact that the allegations of mismanagement are directed at government agencies.
Under Michigan law, residents seeking compensation from a public agency are required to prove not merely negligence, but gross negligence, which is defined as "conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results." "If it's a governmental function, the government itself has almost total immunity," said John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University. "But the employees can be liable if they are grossly negligent," the Detroit Free Press reports. The Post says state officials knew about the crisis and took action to protect themselves, by providing bottled water to state government workers long before they publicly acknowledged to the citizens of Flint that the water was tainted.
Cases like these are hard to win because it can be difficult to demonstrate a direct causal relationship between the defendant’s reckless disregard and the plaintiff’s injury. To win such cases, the plaintiffs’ side will need recognized experts in the issues, with "a solid understanding of chemistry and toxicology," according to the Post.
If the agencies are found liable in the class-action suits, then individual damage claims may have to have to be litigated on their own merits, unless there is a settlement. Different class members will have different categories and severity of injuries.
As a first step, the Post says, Flint residents who have been drinking, cooking with or bathing in Flint’s water to see a doctor for blood tests and medical tests to document health conditions caused by exposure to the tainted water. Those exposed to Flint’s poisoned water may need lifetime medical monitoring for latent diseases that can take years to manifest. Residents should save their water bills as evidence of the time span in which they were consuming and paying for the poisoned city water. Medical and pharmaceutical receipts and receipts for large quantities of bottled water demonstrate the financial burden Flint residents faced.
Please contact us at 1-800-LEAD-LAW for more information.