Flint, Michigan. Synonymous with toxic water. Sickened children. And astounding failures by public and private entities all the way up to the Governor’s office.
The city’s water crisis is also an apt illustration of the level of resources and dedication to achieving restitution and accountability that has become a hallmark of Cohen Milstein.
“I think this was very important for the residents of Flint, many of whom felt like they were not seen or heard by the very people who are there to keep them safe – their government,” says Ted Leopold, who is co-lead counsel for the class of plaintiffs who recovered $600M from the state of Michigan.
The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based partner serves as Co-Chair of Cohen Milstein’s Complex Tort and Consumer Protection practices, which as always is playing a lead role in several of the nation’s most high-profile tort and environmental disputes. Leopold is also proud of his firm’s role handling business-interruption insurance cases arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?
Ted Leopold: My work is focused on complex torts, including auto safety, managed care litigation, environmental contamination claims and consumers class actions. Many of our cases often involve novel legal issues or are nationally significant. That said, one of the things that sets Cohen Milstein apart is the level of the firm’s practice addressing these types of cases and its strong culture of collaboration, which allows every attorney to learn about cutting-edge new issues and support various litigation matters throughout the firm. As Co-Chair of the firm’s tort and consumer practices, I spend a lot of my time drawing on the deep experience and strengths of my colleagues across the firm and brainstorming new ideas to address some of our clients’ toughest challenges.
LD: Is there a recent case you can highlight for us?
TL: In August, we reached a partial $600M settlement in the Flint water crisis litigation. We are proud that nearly 80 percent of the settlement funds will go to impacted minors, with the balance for adults, property and business damages and a special education fund to support children who are suffering the long-term effects of lead poisoning. The agreement is the result of five years of litigation and 18 months of court-supervised negotiations and includes a detailed claims process that will be made available to all victims without any discrimination or favoritism.
The settlement will start to help residents of Flint who were victims of reckless decisions made by governmental officials. Sadly, the Flint community faced devastating health and property injuries as a result. While we can never undo the damage that occurred, we are pleased that we were finally able to secure this long overdue measure of justice.
A little background on the case for your readers – beginning in 2014, Flint, Mich., city and Michigan state officials, including Governor [Rick] Snyder, and engineering firms under their management, blatantly failed to provide the more than 90,000 Flint residents and businesses with safe drinking water, instead providing them with poisonous, lead-tainted water from the Flint River.
This water – which had concentrations up to 880 times the EPA’s legal limit in one instance – made its way into homes, businesses, and eventually into the bodies of Flint residents, leading to an outbreak of Legionnaires and other significant health complications, particularly in Flint’s children, who are more susceptible to long-lasting effects of lead poisoning than adults.
It wasn’t until shortly after deposing Snyder in June 2020 that the State agreed to settle. Litigation against the engineering firms and the Environmental Protection Agency is ongoing.
The complete Q&A can be found here.