‘Ten Years of Injustice—Delayed & Diluted A Call for Immediate Action in the Flint Water Crisis Settlement’ by Hill Harper

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Flint Courier News.  Criteria for selection of guest articles are determined by the Flint Courier News editorial team in their sole discretion.  The editorial team also reserves...

‘Ten Years of Injustice—Delayed & Diluted A Call for Immediate Action in the Flint Water Crisis Settlement’ by Hill Harper
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Flint Courier News.  Criteria for selection of guest articles are determined by the Flint Courier News editorial team in their sole discretion.  The editorial team also reserves the right to edit submissions for style, length and clarity.  The Flint Courier editorial team, in their sole discretion, may remove submissions from the online publication at any point if they fail to maintain the Flint Courier’s standard of quality, do not comply with ethical standards or otherwise do not meet the criterial determined by the editorial team. 
Photos by Tanya Terry
Written By Hill Harper
Detroit, Michigan
In the heart of Michigan lies the city of Flint. For a decade now, the proud, hard working and resilient people of Flint, have endured a catastrophe that stands among the most egregious acts of injustice in modern American history. The Flint water crisis is not merely a failure of infrastructure; it is a seemingly deliberate and systemic affront to the well-being of an entire community—parents, children, and business owners alike. This disaster goes beyond the toxic water flowing from taps; it represents repeated assaults on the community’s heart, spirit, and health.

Each day in Flint is marred by the silent devastation of profound mental health torment and stress endured by residents, plagued by uncertainty and fear as they watch neighbors and loved ones suffer from mysterious ailments, all the while haunted by the question: “Am I next?” Imagine having to replace multiple household appliances wrecked by corrosive water and thinking what is that water doing to you and your children’s bodies— each breakdown a stark reminder of the pervasive poison their families have been exposed to.

Envision the deep economic wounds inflicted as property values nosedive—not gradually, but precipitously, leaving families with homes worth a fraction of their mortgages, and local businesses shuttering their doors, one by one. And having to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on bottled water. This is a tragedy inflicted on a community that forced many to pack up their lives and leave, not out of desire but desperation, carrying the heavy burden of losses that no settlement has yet to acknowledge fully.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of this crisis, the promise of compensation remains a mirage for many, obscured by legal complexities and bureaucratic red tape. The settlement process, heralded as a beacon of hope, has instead become a labyrinth of injustice, particularly for adult plaintiffs who find their compensation pool unfairly diminished.

The recent Special Master court report revealed an astonishing $46M dollars of accrued interest from the unfairly delayed and diluted unpaid settlement dollars. We demand that this accrued interest be allocated to the adult plaintiffs’ pool of funds, exempt from any lawyer commissions, contingencies or court fees. This op-ed seeks to underscore the necessity of this action through a detailed examination of the Flint water crisis, the settlement, and the moral and legal justifications for redirecting the interest accrued.

#### The Crisis Unfolds

The Flint water crisis is not merely an environmental disaster; it is a stark manifestation of negligence and disregard for human life. In April 2014, Flint’s water source was switched to the Flint River without adequate treatment to prevent lead leaching from old pipes. The water, corrosive and contaminated, unleashed a torrent of lead and other toxins into homes, poisoning residents. Children, adults, and the elderly suffered, with no regard for their well-being by those who were supposed to protect them.

#### The Legal Labyrinth

The subsequent legal battles were supposed to bring justice and compensation to the victims. In 2020, a settlement was announced, promising to distribute hundreds of millions to those affected, with special consideration for children who are most vulnerable to lead poisoning. However, the distribution has been marred by delays and a complex claims process that has left many, especially adults, in limbo or left out.

#### The Injustice of the Settlement Allocation

As it stands, the adult plaintiffs, who also suffered immensely, have the smallest pool of money allocated to them. This disparity is compounded by the fact that lawyers stand to claim a significant portion of the compensation through commissions and contingency fees, even on the interest accrued on these unpaid settlement dollars. This is not just deeply unfair; it is morally reprehensible.

#### The Moral and Legal Imperative

The accrued interest on the unpaid settlement dollars represents a financial growth that has nothing to do with the efforts of the lawyers involved. Allocating this interest to the adult plaintiffs’ fund, free of legal deductions, is not only a matter of fairness but also a moral obligation. It would serve as a small rectification for the myriad burdens the people of Flint have borne – from the health impacts to the economic hardships like loss of property value and the expense of bottled water.

There is legal precedent for such an action; the principle of equitable distribution in settlements, especially in cases of mass tort, argues for a fair and just allocation of funds that reflects the suffering and needs of the plaintiffs. The courts have the authority and the moral duty to intervene when the distribution of settlements perpetuates injustice rather than rectifying it.

#### A Call to Action

As we stand on the brink of a decade since the Flint water crisis began, it is incumbent upon us, as a society, to advocate for justice and equity for the victims. The redirection of accrued interest to the adult plaintiffs’ pool, free from legal deductions, is a critical step towards amending the wrongs inflicted upon the residents of Flint. It is a call for a reevaluation of the values we uphold in our justice system, a system that should prioritize the well-being of victims over the financial gain of legal practitioners.

Our government and the representatives we elect our supposed to protect its citizens. The great people of Flint have dreams too, only to see them turn into a decade nightmare by their very people who were supposed to support their growth and foster those dreams.

A few days ago in conjunction with the National Clean Water collective I went to the home of a Flint resident to test their water. Amanda is a wife and mother of four and despite the myriad of hardships over the past ten years for her and her  husband who dealt with incarceration and her kids who’ve experienced depression and development issues she remains steadfast and hopeful, but detailed to me so many injustices. The following is just a snapshot of what Amanda shared with me:

“The past ten years have  been so hard for so many of us—  especially knowing  they poisoned all of us but most of all children, and their purity and not knowing and still not fully understanding the dangers and disadvantages— their behavior, breathing, hair loss, rashes, the anxiety to drink from fountains even if they are far away from Flint— The financial burden of extra gas and water jugs and buying bottles for years. And the fact that our water bill is even telling us that it is higher than usual, and I’m hearing our bill is already higher than most cities. It’s been so, so hard.”

Amanda’s tears and the tears of the community must be met with a fight for compensation so people can afford to rebuild their lives completely destroyed by multiple harmful choices made by people who were supposed to be protecting their best interests.

The Flint water crisis is a test of our collective moral and ethical compass. Let us not fail the people of Flint again by allowing legal greed to dilute their long-overdue compensation. It is time for aggressive action, for the courts to assert their role in ensuring that justice, in its truest form, is finally served. The people of Flint have suffered far too long under the weight of a crisis they did not create.

Let us ensure that their compensation, at the very least, is not siphoned away by those who have not shared in their suffering. The full $46M must be distributed to the residents immediately and without delay.