One of two engineering firms accused of negligence in the Flint, Mich., lead-in-water crisis of 2014 and 2015 has agreed to settle with four of the child plaintiffs ahead of being part of a retrial. The details of the agreements are confidential.
Attorney Corey Stern, who represents the plaintiffs, filed the proposed agreements between the children and Houston-based Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. under seal Dec. 9 in federal court in Ann Arbor, Mich. The secrecy is needed to protect the children “from being exposed to predators, exploitation, unwarranted anger, jealousy and attention,” Stern’s filing states. The agreements still require court approval.
Wayne Mason, an attorney representing LAN, said via email that the parties reached the resolution “to avoid the significant costs, expenses and time of another protracted trial.” He noted that there was no finding of fault against LAN in the first bellwether trial—a judge declared a mistrial in August after jurors said they could not reach a unanimous decision.
Attorneys for the second engineering firm, Boston-based Veolia Water North America Operating Services LLC did not immediately respond to inquiries as to whether it will also sign any agreements or participate in a retrial of the case scheduled for February 2023.
A group of Flint residents had accused LAN and Veolia of contributing to the tainted drinking water crisis through their work for the city.
They alleged that several children suffered neurocognitive injuries from drinking lead-tainted water. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the firms could have prevented the crisis or ended it sooner by recommending that city officials take steps that would have prevented corrosive water from reaching lead water lines.
The engineers’ attorneys argued during the first trial, which lasted more than five months, that the water treatment plant operations were beyond the scope of work they performed for the city and said that some local officials even ignored engineers’ recommendations that could have prevented the crisis.
The firms declined to join an earlier $625-million settlement between Michigan and Flint residents.
Flint’s drinking water crisis happened after the city temporarily switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. to the Flint River ahead of a planned connection to the Karegnondi Water Authority. The city’s water treatment plant was not prepared to treat river water with corrosive properties. Flint’s finances were overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager at the time, and the change was intended to be a cost-saving measure.
The city’s efforts to replace all lead water service lines is continuing after it missed a court-approved deadline this fall. Officials now say Flint is in the “final phase” of the replacement project after awarding a $17.9-million contract to Lakeshore Global Corp. for the work.