The years-long process of distributing a $626.5-million settlement to the families of children who drank tainted water and others impacted as a result of the Flint, Mich., lead-in-water crisis almost a decade ago is inching closer to completion after a pair of court rulings in the past week.

On March 21, Chief Judge David Newblatt in Michigan's Genesee County Circuit Court approved the settlement, formally closing cases that were filed in state court before the plaintiffs joined what became a combined settlement. A panel of federal appeals court judges in Ann Arbor, Mich., also upheld attorneys’ fees awarded in the settlement in a March 17 opinion. 

Under the deal, Michigan will pay $600 million of the settlement, which also includes $20 million from the city of Flint, $5 million from McLaren Regional Medical Center and $1.25 million from Rowe Professional Services Co. State officials agreed to the settlement in 2020, and a federal judge originally approved deal terms in 2021. 

Close to 80% of the settlement fund will go toward the claims of children, most age 6 or younger at the time, who were exposed to lead-tainted water. About 18% will settle adults’ claims and property damage, and smaller amounts will compensate business losses and support county special education services. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the state court approval, saying in a statement that while the settlement, which is the largest civil pact in state history, cannot undo the hardship and health impacts, it “provides families with much-needed compensation for the injuries they have suffered.”

Two engineering firms that worked for Flint and were named in separate federal lawsuits over the water crisis were not parties to the state settlement. Their case went to court last year and ended in a mistrial over a deadlocked jury. 

One firm, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc., reached a deal in December in federal court with the families of the child plaintiffs, but terms were filed under seal. Another, Veolia Water North America Operating Services LLC, still has a federal civil case pending with the families and was not an adviser to the city of Flint before the water crisis began in 2014. It started after Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure when city finances were being overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager.

Flint planned to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority but temporarily switched its source to the Flint River. The city water treatment plant was not prepared to treat the river water, causing leaching from lead service lines.

Flint still is in the process of replacing lead service lines. After missing several court-approved deadlines, city officials have agreed to finish by an Aug. 1 deadline all excavations and replacements, and to complete restorations within four months of the excavations.