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Law professor: Flint needs victim compensation fund

Mar 11, 2016

People upset about the safety and quality of Flint's tap water packed a public meeting last January.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A lot of lawsuits have been filed over the water debacle in Flint, where it was discovered that residents have been exposed to lead-contaminated water.

There might also be a connection to several cases of Legionnaire’s disease that took nine lives.

According to Wayne State University law professor Noah Hall, this wave of lawsuits is just the first of many.

“I think we’ve seen the first wave come in, but certainly not the second, the third or the last,” he says.

Hall tells us the situation in Flint is playing out pretty much like any large-scale environmental and public health disaster would. He expects to see class-action litigation seeking damages on behalf of individuals, as well as lawsuits filed by environmental and public interest organizations seeking to shape policy.

“The public interest organizations often aren’t seeking a penny of damages, they essentially want government to do its job. They want to see the law enforced, and they want to see the situation fixed,” he says.

"Instead of the state investing its money in lawyers to fight its citizens, I think the state would be better off putting its money into a compensation fund."

Hall tells us we’ll eventually see civil and likely criminal charges against government at the local, state and federal levels.

“So what we’ve seen so far is really just the first of what I expect to be three waves,” he says.

Hall suggests the state’s best course of action to prepare for the coming onslaught is to finance a victims' compensation fund. Given the complicated nature of lead poisoning, Hall tells us the exact nature of such a fund will have to be determined, but it could include money for educational assistance, community support, public health awareness and new infrastructure.

“The point is that … instead of the state investing its money in lawyers to fight its citizens, I think the state would be better off putting its money into a compensation fund, admitting that a wrong occurred and that its responsible, and moving forward with solutions and compensation.”

Listen to our conversation above, where Noah Hall tells us more about the legal situation in Flint and what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.