Residents of Flint, Michigan have taken action against city and state officials by filing three separate class action lawsuits alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of implied warranty and violation of Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act stemming from the city’s inadequate drinkable water.
In the suits, the petitioners allege that Flint’s tap water became contaminated in 2014 after the city decided to change its water supply from Detroit’s Lake Huron water system to Flint River water in an attempt to save money while operating under state financial management. During this period, children and adults began to show signs of elevated levels of lead, though officials maintained that the water was safe for almost 18 months.
With the legal battles heating up and national attention finally coming to the crisis, we’re breaking down from you what rights residents have and what to expect from Flint in the coming months.
THE DETAILS OF THE LAWSUIT:
The lawsuits are seeking (1) a preliminary injunction against the city of Flint over planned water shutoffs and to declare Flint users to be exempted from past or future water bills, and (2) to hold the state of Michigan financially accountable for what has been described as a “man-made catastrophe.”
Among those named in the suit are Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, former mayor of Flint Dayne Walling, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft, the city of Flint, and others.
Governor Rick Snyder has continuously apologized to Flint residents, by (most obviously) noting that they “deserved better,” that state agencies had a leadership failure, and that they got the lead-contaminated water crisis “wrong.” He has since pledged to release all emails related to the issue.
A state of emergency has been declared on the local, state and federal levels because of the contamination, and the above mentioned class action lawsuits have been filed against the state for its slow response to the crises.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
A class action lawsuit is one in which one or several persons sue on behalf of a larger group of persons, referred to as “the class”. The connecting factors present for every “class” that brings a lawsuit are (a) the issues in dispute (i.e. – lack of drinkable water, damages) are common to all of the members of the class, and (b) the persons affected are so numerous that it is impracticable to bring each lawsuit before the court. One of the suits states that there are approximately 40,000 households in Flint, and approximately 31,000 of those have paid water bills to the city, thereby being affected by the causes stemming from the government’s actions.
With so many residents of Flint affected by the alleged lead contamination, a class action lawsuit is the perceived proper tool to getting restitution for so many who have been harmed physically, emotionally, and financially.
The alleged breaches caused by government officials stem from their failure to adhere to their contractual obligations of providing drinkable water to those who pay for it, and also those who rightfully expect it from their city (i.e. – implied warranty). Furthermore, it is alleged that while the city knew the water was not consumable, its officials still maintained and assured its residents that it was. If true, this move violated its Consumer Protection Act due to its unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
As citizens and consumers of our respective cities and states, we are reasonably entitled to not being poisoned by our government officials. We are also reasonably entitled to not being robbed of our hard-earned money to pay for goods and services that are harming us. The city of Flint, and the state of Michigan failed its residents for what appears to be an intentional move to save money. Every official who knew, or should have known, about the potential risks of this switch of water systems in 2014 should be held accountable. Furthermore, every official who attempted to assure the residents of Flint that the water they were consuming and using on a daily basis should be held accountable as well.
When matters like this affect so many people, sometimes the only option available to those who are harmed is to become a member of a class action lawsuit. I pray that each resident affected gets full and proper restitution.