Three residents of Flint, Michigan have filed a class action lawsuit against the state, Gov. Rick Snyder (R), and the city of Flint for negligence in the town’s deadly water crisis.
This the the first legal action taken by residents of Flint — a town that’s recently discovered its tap water has been contaminated for years with dangerously elevated amounts of lead that could “irreversibly” damage child brain development in particular. And based on email records, Snyder’s administration may have known about the lead levels months ago and failed to act.
Plaintiffs Doris Collins, Robin Pleasant, and Jason Phinisee all say they’ve suffered physical injury and financial injustice from drinking and being forced to pay for contaminated water, and are demanding a trial to seek reparations from the city and state. In the lawsuit, each step leading toward contamination and negligence is linked to a state or city agency.
The state’s Department of Environmental Quality, in particular, “made the decision to replace safe drinking water with poisonous water,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, fell on the same day Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in response to Flint’s crisis. Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver have already declared a state of emergency in Flint over the dangerous levels of lead found in the city’s tap water, and Snyder activated the state’s National Guard Tuesday to help distribute clean water to Flint residents.
On Friday morning, state Attorney General Bill Schuette announced his plans to investigate the crisis — specifically determining if any Michigan laws were violated in the process that left Flint without potable tap water. “In 21st century America, no one should have to fear something as basic as turning on the kitchen faucet,” Schuette said in a statement.
However, the biggest issue the plaintiffs have against the city and state is the fact that they — and the rest of the 40,000 or so Flint households — continue to be billed for the poisoned water coming out of their faucets.
“Plaintiffs have been damaged to the extent of the payment for drinkable water they were advised… not to drink and which was undrinkable,” the lawsuit reads.
The water bills are already at unusually high rates in Flint, and to require residents to continue to pay when they know the water’s contaminated only adds insult to injury. All three plaintiffs have continued to pay their water bills, but November data found around 1,800 Flint households past due.