Flint water crisis lawsuits for kids 6-12 go to front of the line in federal court

Flint children who are now 6 to 12 years old and who claim they were lead poisoned by city water are on track to have some of their civil lawsuits heard first in U.S. District Court -- possibly starting in November.

An order issued by Judge Judith Levy on Friday, May 8, separates 14 potential bellwether cases for children born from April 25, 2008 until April 25, 2014 from other lawsuits filed on behalf of other children and adults who also allege they were harmed by lead in the city’s water supply while the Flint River was used as Flint’s drinking water source for 17 months in parts of 2014 and 2015.

Bellwether trials are cases that are tried, to verdict, with the idea that they will help attorneys in other cases evaluate whether to settle or take their own cases to trial. They are also designed to avoid duplication in the discovery processes of similar cases.

More than 21,000 claims of damage or injuries are pending in civil lawsuits filed in with state and federal courts, according to a report filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court, and the test cases could give guidance to attorneys representing plaintiffs and defendants in many of them.

“You’re looking for kids (in the bellwether cases) who are part of a larger group ... not an outlier,” said Corey Stern, a New York-based attorney who represents 10 of the 14 children whose cases could start in November.

Stern said the cases could go forward separately or could be combined depending on a number of factors.

But Levy’s decision for cases in her federal court means some of the claims filed on behalf young children are moving to the front of the line.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly to the brain and nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage, and exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, the WHO says.

State data has shown the percentage of children 6 years and under in Flint with blood lead levels of 5 mcg/dL or more spiked well above percentages compared to samples from all of Michigan and the rest of Genesee County during the time the improperly treated river was used.

Researchers have said failing to treat river water to make it less corrosive to lead pipes and plumbing triggered the city’s water crisis, causing lead to leach into the city’s water supply.

A study by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha during the water crisis showed the percentage of Flint infants and children with above-average lead levels nearly doubled citywide, and nearly tripled among children in “high risk” areas of lead exposure.

The number of children with elevated blood lead levels in Flint peaked in the third quarter of 2014, the first full quarter after the water source switch on April 25, 2014.

In her May 8 order, Levy scheduled the first bellwether trials involving children to begin Nov. 28 and said the first bellwether case involving adults with lead poisoning claims will start at a later date. The judge’s order says a special master she appointed identified the names of all individual children with such lead exposure claims, and those potential cases have since been narrowed to 14.

Christopher Hastings, a professor at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, said bellwether cases have been used in similar situations where multiple lawsuits make similar damage claims, and early cases can set the tone for how others are resolved.

“A bellwether sheep is the one that wears the bell and others follow,” Hastings said.

Flint water crisis lawsuits for kids 6-12 go to front of the line in federal court Flint water crisis lawsuits for kids 6-12 go to front of the line in federal court Reviewed by Anson Moore on June 05, 2020 Rating: 5

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