, in an effort to save money, Flint Michigan’s unelected emergency manager (appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder) switched the city’s water source to the polluted Flint River. The drinking water immediately started sickening its , including , which causes permanent brain damage. And to make matters even worse, many now believe the contaminated water source is also which has sickened at least 87 people and killed nine. State officials, with of what was happening, refused to do anything as the community got sicker and sicker. In a recent editorial called “Depraved Indifference Toward Flint,” the wrote:
… 274 pages of emails released under pressure on Wednesday by Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan show a cynical and callous indifference to the plight of the mostly black, poverty-stricken residents of Flint, who have gone for more than a year with poisoned tap water that is unsafe to drink or bathe in. …
On October 23, 2015, a gigantic, man-made volcano of methane began spewing from a Southern California Gas 米兜彩票电脑版 underground natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch, California, 米兜彩票电脑版 to 30,000. The leak has been . Thousands of families have been forced to relocate (although are seeking relocation) entire schools have been closed, well- established businesses are shuttering, and the FAA even created a over the area due to fears the leak could be ignited from the air- and there is not clear end in sight. As to its cause, “ are pointing to an old and leaky safety valve,” which “Sempra (SoCalGas’ parent company)— whose annual revenues exceed $12 billion — opted not to replace the valve because it was not deemed a ‘critical well.’”
“ to this disaster is almost as alarming as the impact on the community.” The company’s plans for stopping the leak have more than half a dozen times and a new strategy for plugging up the well is likely to take months.
In recent days, there have been a number of articles and blogs comparing these two catastrophes. (See, .) The wrote this week:
near the Porter Ranch neighborhood may cause , nosebleeds and other short-term symptoms, they say, but they have assured residents that it does not pose long-term health risks.
Many people here, however, simply do not buy it. And now they look warily toward , where the switch to a new water supply, which state officials insisted for months was safe, has left children with high levels of lead in their blood.
With Flint as a potent warning, confidence in public agencies has collapsed here after the gas leak. Unconvinced by health department reassurances, residents have turned for guidance to lawyers who are spearheading lawsuits.
But that’s where the legal comparisons may end.
In California, writes the , Erin Brockovich and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are among those involved with at least 25 lawsuits that have been filed so far on behalf of residents and businesses harmed by the gas leak. They have been “Southern California Gas Co and its parent company Sempra Energy, the non-government operators of the leaking gas storage facility.” And they are suing for “negligence, hazardous activity, nuisance and trespass and seek compensation for emotional and physical injuries, as well as for diminished property values.”
But the challenges of filing lawsuits on behalf of Flint, Michigan residents are, sadly, more complicated. Some lawsuits have been filed. But as explains,
What's holding [other attorneys] back, several lawyers said, is not the facts or the victims, but the prospective targets: The State of Michigan, the city of Flint, and officials at various levels of government. Special legal protections make it difficult to hold governments liable for damages, they said.
Federal and state governments and employees engaged in their official duties are shielded from most private lawsuits by a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. The doctrine, enshrined in the laws of many countries, stems from the centuries-old principle that the government itself cannot commit a legal wrong, though exceptions have evolved.
While cities in the U.S. are not technically considered to have sovereign status, they are similarly protected by state and federal laws.…
Sovereign immunity … may not apply if the plaintiff can show there was gross negligence. Michigan law, however, shields the state's topmost officials - including the governor, agency heads and Flint's emergency manager - even in cases of gross negligence.
As to the few lawsuits that have been filed so far, the attorneys “are pushing relatively novel theories designed to circumvent immunity. The financially troubled city was governed by a state-appointed emergency manager at the time of the change to the river water.” Reuters notes:
One of the Flint lawsuits, filed in November against the state and local governments and various officials in U.S. district court in Ann Arbor, makes a federal constitutional argument. It contends that the decision to switch the water source denied residents their civil rights to bodily integrity and to be free from state-created danger. The state's response is due next month.
We hope other firms step in to help. As “Robin Greenwald of New York plaintiffs’ firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which is also representing plaintiffs in California,” put it, “’I really believe there must be something to do here … There must be an opportunity for that community to be compensated. They poisoned kids.’”