FLINT, MI — The companies sued by four Flint children for their role in the city’s water crisis told a jury Monday, Feb. 28 that government officials — not their employees — are responsible for any injury caused by lead in the city water system.
Lawyers for Veolia North America and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam made their comments during opening statements in the landmark lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, while Corey Stern, who represents the four children, said that while The companies aren’t solely responsible for Flint’s water emergency, they ignored evidence of impending trouble by working here.
LAN officials remained silent on the need to treat Flint’s water to make it less corrosive to lead pipes and plumbing, Stern said, while Veolia knew lead was a problem in Flint’s water. the city but did not warn the public, telling residents their water was safe. .
“They’re going to blame everybody (but) they’re also speeding up,” Stern said of VNA and LAN after comparing the water crisis to a multi-car highway crash in which more than one driver was involved. at fault.
The four children claim they were damaged by Flint’s water when it contained high levels of lead and that Veolia and LAN were negligent when they worked as water consultants for the city.
Lawyers for the consulting companies said Monday that the scope of their work in Flint was limited, that city and state officials were keeping them in the dark about rising lead levels in the water and that government officials had lied to their employees and kept them in the dark. on water treatment and analysis.
“Flint’s water crisis was a massive failure of government – from politicians at the top of state government, including then-Governor Snyder himself and members of his senior staff, to bureaucrats on the ground in Flint,” said Dan Stein, a Veolia attorney.
“They had the power to solve Flint’s water problems and they had every chance of doing it. These government officials dug in their heels, downplayed the problem. They lied to the public and they lied and hid critical information from VNA,” Stein told the 10-person jury.
Wayne Mason, an attorney for LAN, also accused government officials of wrongdoing, saying the company’s job in Flint had changed several times, and said city officials “kicked to the sidewalk and excluded” its employees from the process of preparing the Flint water plant to treat Flint River water.
“Flint’s water crisis was a failure of the government era,” Mason said. “Blaming LAN is nonsense… an ugly smear…”
Stern used photos of his clients to present them to jurors and said their parents, grandparents and experts would testify to their damage, including brain damage, social and mood issues and reasoning deficits.
“No one on our side is going to argue there’s no responsibility to go around,” Stern said. “But LAN and VNA – neither of them will accept any responsibility over this matter and if they do, it will really be for the first time.”
Veolia and LAN have pursued the cases involving the four children rather than joining a $626 million settlement between Flint residents and the State of Michigan, City of Flint, McLaren Regional Hospital and Rowe Professional Services.
In exchange for the settlement contributions, these four entities avoided lawsuits with the residents who opted into the settlement agreement approved by Levy in November.
The initial lawsuit is being called a landmark case because it could influence how others with similar claims proceed with their own cases against VNA and LAN.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday March 1 with the children’s first witness, John Hoaglund, an expert in geology and water chemistry.
In an opinion issued earlier this month, Levy granted in part and in part denied a motion by Veolia and LAN to exclude Hoaglund’s testimony.
Hoaglund, one of eight experts retained by the children’s attorneys, said the city of Flint used a standard lime treatment to increase calcium and bicarbonate in Flint River water after it began using the river for drinking water in April 2014.
Court records indicate that due to the composition of the river water, the treatment instead resulted in the removal of these elements, which can lead to highly unstable pH levels, according to Hoaglund.
The second scheduled witness is Jeffrey Hansen, who worked as a project manager for LAN in Flint and whose emails about the city were partially excluded from the introduction into evidence.
LAN had asked Levy to exclude four emails from Hansen, saying they were irrelevant to claims the company had been negligent in its work here and because “the probative value of e -mails is more than outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing questions, misleading the jury, unduly delaying or wasting time”.
Judge agreed to exclude from evidence two emails from Hansen, including one in which he called Flint a ‘clown town’ as the company advised the town on its water system before the coronavirus crisis began water.
Levy’s opinion on Hansen’s motion says a 2015 email, in which Hansen calls Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards a “clown,” is relevant and can be considered by the jury.
The judge’s opinion says she will wait to rule at trial on the admissibility of a final email in which Hansen suggests that two “thugs robbing someone at gunpoint would symbolize the area well ( Flint)”.
20 potential witnesses who could be critical as Flint children’s water crisis trial begins Monday
Have you been indicted? Judge will allow to ask Snyder and other witnesses in Flint water crisis trial
Water consultant employee’s email calling Flint a ‘clown town’ won’t be seen by jury