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Judge approves $626 million settlement for victims of the Flint water crisis

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A federal judge has approved a $626 million settlement for victims of the Flint water crisis. Residents there were exposed to contaminated drinking water after the city switched its water source in a cost-saving move back in 2014. Ted Leopold is co-lead counsel for the people of Flint, and he joins us now.

Welcome.

TED LEOPOLD: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: I want to drill down on some aspects of the judge's decision today because she considered multiple objections to this settlement. One in particular was about the technology used by one firm to determine whether residents had lead contamination in their bones, which could help determine how much money a resident is entitled to in this settlement, right?

LEOPOLD: That's correct. So one of the firms has what's referred to as bone scanning. And their clients have gone, from what I understand, and some may continue to go through that process. But that's only one aspect there. We have set up, for the community and those who want to participate, another aspect to be able to get a just and full recovery for their injuries and damages by going through neuropsychological testing. So we are going to have that testing with experts and doctors from around the country coming in and to test all of those individuals who wish to have that done - not only adults but children as well.

CHANG: OK, so a number of ways that a resident can determine how much money they will be owed.

LEOPOLD: That's right.

CHANG: And there has been some pushback from residents who say that this deal is inadequate. Can Flint residents opt out of this settlement and pursue other separate lawsuits if they're not happy with the particular amount here?

LEOPOLD: They can opt out. There was a time frame for both people who were going to object to make their objections, which Judge Levy has addressed, and also for people to have opted out of that process of the settlement. So all of that has been taken into consideration.

CHANG: But going forward, no one else can opt out at this point, right?

LEOPOLD: That's right. They either participate or not.

CHANG: OK. But just to be clear, there are still outstanding separate lawsuits in addition to this class action related to what has happened in Flint, correct?

LEOPOLD: Right. There is. And I think that sort of brings up an issue to which you were just asking about in terms of being concerns of, quote, "not enough money," if you will, by some people within the community. And, you know, in something like this, it has had such a catastrophic effect on a community and especially the Flint community that has gone through, historically, such hard times that, you know, no amount of money could ever cure what has happened. But we think that this is a large sum of money that can hopefully bring justice, or at least some semblance of justice, to what has occurred, bring some closure for people - but also that this $600-plus million is one aspect of the case. There are still additional engineering - private engineering companies that are defendants in the case. We - recently, Judge Levy has certified that case. And if that case doesn't resolve, we are looking forward and working hard to prepare that case for trial. So there are additional funds that will be available.

CHANG: Ted Leopold is co-lead counsel for the people of Flint.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LEOPOLD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.