A flood of lawsuits has been filed this month over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but the unprecedented situation that exposed thousands of children to lead contamination has plaintiffs lawyers scrambling to figure out who — if anyone — will pay.
As a U.S. House committee held hearings this month over the problems in Flint, more than 30 cases hit the courts, boosting the total to about 40 lawsuits. The claims are all over the map. Some have been filed under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, while others assert gross negligence or constitutional claims. Some are class actions, some individual cases. And a lengthy list of government officials named as defendants, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who testified on Capitol Hill on March 17, has expanded to include three engineering firms that studied Flint’s water.
Most of the other suits are class actions primarily focused on government defendants, but they’ve asserted different claims to overcome immunity defenses. Initial suits made constitutional arguments. Michael Pitt, a lawyer in Royal Oak, Michigan, who filed the first case over the Flint crisis on Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, has alleged that residents had their due process rights violated under the 14th Amendment.
In a second class action filed on Jan. 20 in the Michigan Court of Claims, he made arguments under the state constitution. “If the state or the governmental agency enhances the danger, creates the danger, prolongs the danger to the plaintiff, due process is implicated,” said Pitt, of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers.