DETROIT – Lawyers who negotiated a $641 million settlement for victims of Flint's lead-contaminated water are asking a judge to carve out as much as $209 million for fees and expenses for years of work on the case.
If granted, the request would take nearly one-third of the overall deal made by dozens of attorneys who sued the state of Michigan, Flint, a hospital and an engineering firm, according to a court filing Monday.
“Working together, plaintiffs’ counsel have achieved a landmark $641.25 million partial settlement in these cases that the court has rightly called ‘complex’ and ‘intensely litigated.’ ... Plaintiffs’ counsel have worked on a contingent basis for more than five years now, without compensation of any kind, to achieve this remarkable result,” the lawyers said.
Regulators in then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration allowed Flint to use the Flint River in 2014-15 without treating the water to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead in old pipes broke off and flowed through taps. The catastrophe in the majority-Black city, population 95,000, has been described as environmental racism.
Separately, experts have blamed the water for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which led to at least 12 deaths in the Flint area.
Michigan is paying $600 million of the settlement. Attorney General Dana Nessel said she will not take a public position on how much the attorneys should receive unless asked by U.S. District Judge Judith Levy.
Levy will decide how much money for lawyers will be taken out of the settlement. In a typical Michigan personal-injury case, lawyers would get one-third. The Flint water litigation has involved thousands of victims, a raft of state defendants and complex legal issues.
“This is not an outrageous request,” said John O'Connor, a San Francisco lawyer who has testified as a fee expert in more than 200 cases. “I would expect the court would award somewhere between $150 million to $202 million. ... If it weren’t for lawyers taking huge risks, the class would get nothing.”
But at least one state lawmaker from Flint believes $100 million would be enough.
“Flint families took 100 percent of the harm. Flint families should not have a third of the settlement taken from them," said Rep. Cynthia Neeley, the wife of Mayor Sheldon Neeley.
The settlement makes money available to every Flint child who was exposed to the water, every adult who can show an injury, certain business owners and anyone who paid water bills. The deadline to register is March 29.
Attorneys representing Flint residents have said 80% of payments will go to people who were under 18 when the river water was used. About 30,000 children lived there at the time. The estates of people who died from Legionnaires’ would qualify for $300,000 to $1.5 million.
Flint switched back to a Detroit regional water agency in fall 2015, when a doctor publicly reported elevated lead levels in children.
Separately, Snyder and eight other people are charged with crimes in the Flint water scandal.
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