An engineering firm that assisted Flint, Michigan, in its catastrophic attempt to change its drinking water supply has reached a confidential settlement in principle with a class of city residents and individual plaintiffs to resolve all federal and state negligence claims.
Lockwood Andrews & Newnam PC and its parent corporation, the Leo A. Daly Company, requested a 45-day stay in the proceedings to finalize the terms of the agreement stemming from the city's water crisis that began in 2014, according to a joint filing Thursday in the Eastern District of Michigan.
"Plaintiffs and the LAN defendants wish to finalize the settlement without burdening this court with additional filings and without incurring unnecessary litigation expenses in the interim," the filing said.
Lead counsel for LAN said in a statement Friday that the companies were "pleased with the settlement, which will allow LAN to put this matter behind them and focus on their future."
"We believe this will finally bring closure for the state, plaintiffs and LAN," said Wayne B. Mason of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. "LAN maintains it was never responsible for any of the issues related to the Flint matter, and further litigation would not be productive for any party."
Co-lead class counsel, Theodore J. Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, declined to comment Friday and attorneys for the individual plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The settlement in principle comes a week after class plaintiffs filed briefs opposing summary judgment arguments from LAN, its parent company, and Veolia North America, saying the engineering firms had a duty to warn Flint residents that the drinking water was unsafe and they should not escape professional negligence claims.
Veolia North America is not part of the potential settlement and the stay of court proceedings does not apply to it, according to Thursday's filing. Counsel for VNA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
In arguing for summary judgment in May, the engineering firms said the professional negligence claims — the only claims left in the litigation — should be dismissed because the companies did not have a direct relationship with city residents and therefore could not have had a duty of care. The firms argued they had a relationship with the city, which was their client.
Residents countered that LAN did have a relationship to the class plaintiffs based on its engineering work for the city before and during the Flint water crisis. Plaintiffs argued Michigan law is clear that a professional's duties are not limited to clients and said VNA had a responsibility to residents because Flint hired it to investigate various quality issues.
The city was in dire financial straits and going through a string of state-appointed emergency managers when it decided to leave its longstanding Detroit Water and Sewerage District hookup, which took water from Lake Huron, and go instead to the Flint River.
In August, a jury in Ann Arbor failed to reach a verdict after a six-month trial. It was the first bellwether trial involving LAN and VNA.
In December, LAN agreed to four separate settlements with children who alleged the company's actions during the drinking water source switch contributed to a lead contamination catastrophe that poisoned them.
The residents and individual plaintiffs are represented by Theodore J. Leopold, Emmy L. Levens and Trent Rehusch of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Michael L. Pitt of Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers PC, Hunter Shkolnik of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC and Corey M. Stern of Levy Konigsberg LLP.
Leo A. Daly Company and Lockwood Andrews & Newnam are represented by Wayne B. Mason, Travis S. Gamble, S. Vance Wittie and David C. Kent of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Philip A. Erickson and Rhonda Stowers of Plunkett Cooney.
Veolia North America is represented by James M. Campbell and Alaina N. Devine of Campbell Conroy & O'Neil PC and Michael A. Olsen of Mayer Brown LLP.
The cases are In re: Flint Water Litigation, case numbers 5:16-cv-10444 and 5:17-cv-10164, both in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.