FLINT, MI — Almost 24,000 Flint residents have signed retainers with attorneys who are working toward a $600-million settlement with the state of Michigan over the city’s water crisis and 15,000 more have at least contacted lawyers about representing them in court.
U.S. District Court Special Master Deborah Greenspan reported a “significant increase” in resident contacts with attorneys in a report to Judge Judith Levy Wednesday, Sept. 30, with details of the settlement expected to be submitted to the court later this month.
Greenspan said more than 26,000 people have actually hired attorneys to represent them in Flint water matters, but some of those residents have signed retainers with more than one law firm. She said 1,150 individuals have signed with attorneys since her last report in July, and said one in three of represented residents were children at the time the city used the Flint River as its water source — the event that triggered the water crisis and exposed residents to elevated levels of lead and bacteria.
Nearly 80 percent of the settlement, which state officials have said is likely the largest in Michigan history, would be paid to children who were younger than 18 when they were first exposed to Flint River water in 2014 and 2015. To qualify for a portion of that lump sum, they will need to work through a federal court claims process.
Since the $600-million settlement was proposed by the state, about 4,000 new residents have made contact with attorneys who can help them through that process, but have not yet signed retainers, the special master said.
A special master is a court officer appointed by a judge to perform certain jobs such as developing and implementing settlement programs. Greenspan has been appointed previously to handle similar high-profile cases, developing and implementing a settlement program to distribute funds to over 100,000 Vietnam veterans and conceiving the policies and for facilitating the distribution of over $9 billion to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel in August announced some details of the Flint settlement, which would set up a claims process for Flint residents harmed by city water.
Although details of that deal, including how much attorneys will receive, have not been filed with the court, Greenspan said residents will soon see them and have the chance to tell the court what they think. A state attorney said days after the settlement was filed that the state will wait at least 45 days before filing it with the court.
Former Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and others have been critical of the settlement, calling it insulting to residents.
“There is a process ongoing right now for the parties to complete documentation of the settlement … That is an ongoing process. It’s coming along well,” Greenspan told Levy Wednesday. “We have some things to iron out, but I think most of the documents are making their way to a final product. I anticipate there will be an ability to submit something to the court in a matter of weeks.”
The special master said every detail of the settlement will be made public “and of course (Flint residents) will have an opportunity to submit whatever comments or objections or anything else they want.
“There will be a schedule that the court will set for that process,” she said.
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