A federal judge in Michigan declined on Feb. 7 to accept the contention of engineer Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam Inc. that claims against it for professional negligence in its advisory role to Flint, Mich. ahead of the city's drinking water crisis should not go to trial. The civil case, set for trial on Feb. 15, was brought on behalf of four children who say they suffered neurocognitive harm from exposure to lead in the water supply.
U.S. District Court Judge Judith E. Levy partly denied the firm’s motion for summary judgment—saying LAN may be liable for failing to warn city officials about a plan lacking orthophosphates for corrosion control in the water after March 2014, but she also agreed with the firm that plaintiffs in the case had failed to show evidence that it could have intervened before that date.
LAN and its parent firm Leo A Daly, as well as engineering firm Veolia North America, are accused of professional negligence in the case. Last month, Levy issued a similar opinion against Veolia, allowing claims of potential liability after February 2015 to continue.
in another opinion issued Feb. 9, Levy and Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph J. Farah partly denied a motion for summary judgment from Daly, which had argued that it should not be held responsible separately from LAN for its subsidiary’s actions and that it was not responsible for the actions of the engineers who worked on the Flint project. The judges found that, because of Daly’s corporate structure, all of LAN’s engineers are actually Daly employees and the parent company may be vicariously liable for their actions.
Wayne B. Mason, an attorney representing LAN, said in a statement that the court’s opinion should “concern any design professional firm performing work in the state of Michigan.” He added that “rather than judging the engineering professionals based on the longstanding standard of care, this ruling potentially exposes engineering firms to exposure never contemplated under longheld industry standards."
Flint hired LAN in 2013 to provide engineering services for its water treatment plant related to a plan to switch its city water source from Lake Huron via the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. to the Flint River. According to court documents, LAN recommended a lime and ash softening solution to deal with the river water’s more corrosive nature.
Richard Humann, an engineer who gave a deposition as an expert for the plaintiffs, said that plan would not have been sufficient, and that LAN should have warned city officials that the water would be unsafe without adding the orthophosphate corrosion inhibitor.
LAN says it was unaware that Flint’s drinking water contained lead, which is why it did not provide any warnings. The firm also argued that it could not have been responsible for recommending orthophosphates because it was not hired to perform corrosion control services, and did not learn that the city was not using them until August 2015. Flint’s water supply was reconnected to city water department in October 2015.
Humann testified that any engineer aware of the problems with discoloration and smell in Flint’s water following the switch should have known that corrosion was a significant problem and that the city was not using needed corrosion controls.
Mason said LAN is looking forward to presenting its case to a jury.
"We are confident once the jury hears all of the evidence, that they will see that LAN was never responsible for water quality issues related to the change to the Flint River, and that the cause of the water problems in Flint was solely driven by a failure of government,” he said.