Flint, Michigan residents, suffering health problems and financial burdens brought on by the lead in their drinking water, have begun seeking legal remedies. The city’s 100,000 were exposed to high levels of lead in their tap water after the city changed water sources in 2014 in an effort to save money. The water is particularly dangerous to young children, whose brains and bodies are still developing. Lead exposure can cause irreversible problems including lower IQ, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems.
Class-action lawsuits are a legal route to compensation, according to the Washington Post. Suits have already been filed, focusing on the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services, the state of Michigan and state agencies.
In a public health crisis like this one, corporations and governments will attempt to evade responsibility until citizens are able to muster the evidence to prove harm. A legal team can help plaintiffs assemble the documentation they need and the medical and scientific experts to support their claims. In a civil suit, the plaintiff must prove that a “preponderance,” or majority, of the evidence demonstrates liability, and then the defendants are held responsible and are required to provide financial compensation.
The Flint situation is more difficult than a suit against a private party because the allegations 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, that is, “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” Wayne State University law professor John Mogk says that when “it’s a governmental function, the government itself has almost total immunity,” though “employees can be liable if they are grossly negligent,” the Detroit Free Press reports. The Washington Post reports that state officials knew about the crisis and protected themselves by providing bottled water to state workers well before they publicly acknowledgment to the citizens of Flint that the water was tainted.
Class actions of this type are hard to win because it is difficult to demonstrate a direct causal relationship between the defendant’s reckless disregard and the plaintiff’s injury. To win, plaintiffs must bring in recognized experts in the issues, with “a solid understanding of chemistry and toxicology,” according to the Post. If government agencies are found liable in a class-action suit, individual damage claims may have to be litigated on their own merits, unless a settlement is offered. Different members of the class will have different categories and severity of injuries and will therefore be entitled to different levels of compensation.
Flint residents who have been drinking, cooking with or bathing in Flint’s water should see a doctor for blood lead level tests and to document health problems arising from exposure to the tainted water. The Post explains that many Flint residents will need long-term medical monitoring for latent diseases that can take years to manifest. Children may need educational support because of deficits caused by lead exposure.
Residents should save their water bills, medical and pharmaceutical bills, receipts for purchases of bottled water, and any other documentation of financial burdens. Please contact 1-800-LEAD-LAW for further information.