DETROIT (CN) — The city of Flint, ravaged by a contaminated water crisis since 2014, has agreed to join a massive $641 million settlement with residents announced by Michigan officials over the summer.
The preliminary settlement announced by the state in August was valued at $600 million and included class-action suits brought by Flint residents who were poisoned by lead-contaminated water, but the city had not joined the agreement at the time.
Flint changed course late Tuesday when it joined a motion to approve the settlement, along with McLaren Regional Medical Center and city contractor Rowe Professional Services Company. The hospital was sued over an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that developed when the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River.
The updated agreement – now valued at $641.2 million, based on $20 million contributions from Flint and McLaren Regional Medical Center plus $1.25 million from Rowe Professional Services – includes a hybrid structure where minor children who were poisoned can directly register for payments and adults who have retained their own counsel can proceed individually.
The proposed settlement also offers an avenue for a subclass of victims, including any adult who had exposure to the water from 2014 to 2018, businessowners who suffered economic losses and residential property owners who were affected.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, applauded the deal in a statement Tuesday night.
“Without this settlement, which makes affected children a top priority, Flint residents would have been provided little assurance that their claims would be successful in court, and ongoing litigation could have prolonged their hardships for years,” she said. "Resolving these legal disputes against the state, and now the other defendants who have joined the settlement, is the best possible outcome for Flint’s future.”
The agreement will utilize a payment system that hinges on the severity of the damage caused by the contamination.
“Monetary payments will be made based on the settlement categories set forth in the settlement categories grid. These categories compensate groups of people based on the extent of their injuries and in some cases the proof they are able to provide of their injuries,” according to the motion filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The filing also clarified that children who do not immediately register for the settlement will not be excluded from relief in the future.
“Minors who do not register or submit a claim during the claims period are not parties to the settlement and do not release or relinquish potential claims against any of the settling defendants,” the motion sates. “Under the terms of the settlement agreement, minors who do not participate in settlement at this time maintain their ability to participate until they reach the age of nineteen.”
When the preliminary settlement, one of the biggest in state history, was first reached, it proposed payments for Flint citizens and businessowners affected by poisoned water from a $600 million fund and promised 80% of the money would be directed to victims who were under 18 years old at the time of the crisis.
Under the terms of the updated settlement, 79.5% of the funds will be apportioned to minor children and a $35 million fund will be established for future minor claimants. Adult victims and property damage claims will account for 18% of the money and less than 1% is allocated for business losses. Another 2% will be used for a dedicated fund to offer special education to those who developed long-term neurological damage from the dirty water.
U.S. District Judge Judith Levy, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, will review the motion and schedule a public hearing before deciding on its merits.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, approved of the settlement and pledged further help in the future.
“This settlement agreement is just one of the many ways we will continue showing our support for the city and residents of Flint,” she said.
The lead contamination crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials admitted they failed to require corrosion-control chemicals as part of the water treatment process.
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