Third lawsuit over Benton Harbor lead crisis filed in state court


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — People living in Benton Harbor have filed another lawsuit regarding the ongoing water crisis.

The latest has four Benton Harbor women and four children suing EGLE and its director of drinking water and environmental health division, Eric Oswald, in state court.

Similar to the two federal lawsuits filed in November, this one is also seeking class action status. However, it was filed in the state court – the Michigan Court of Commons.

“We’re not just seeking relief on behalf of these people. We’re seeking relief on behalf of all affected people, all similarly situated people,” Nick Coulson, one of three attorneys representing the women and children, said.

Citing fair treatment at investigations and eminent domain in the Michigan Constitution, the lawsuit claims Oswald and EGLE’s actions deprived property rights of thousands of Benton Harbor residents “due to lead contaminated drinking water invading their homes and bodies without consent.”

“These state constitutional claims cannot be asserted in federal court,” Coulson said. “We think that they are the most viable claims against the most viable defendants in this case. They’re the community of Benton Harbor’s best case in getting some relief here.”

If the state-appointed judge certifies the case is class action, Coulson says their demands include injunctive relief, which goes beyond the replacement of lead pipes.

“In the interim, it’s inevitable that some number of people are going to come into contact with the water that’s flowing through Benton Harbor’s system and the state needs to be forced to ensure that adequate corrosion control is used in the treatment of the water,” Coulson argued.

The plaintiffs are also seeking compensation.

While the amount is yet to be determined, it includes a medical monitoring fund to help those who ingested the water containing the neurotoxin.

“We want the state to step in and make sure that particularly the children of Benton Harbor are looked after here for years and years and years… when people have forgotten about this, and it’s not in the headlines anymore, but they’re still living with the effects of this,” Coulson said.

The lawsuit is also requesting the judge to declare the EGLE and Oswald’s conduct “unconstitutional.” Coulson says the defendants are expected to respond within the next two months. He also encourages anyone in Benton Harbor who was directly affected by the water contamination to contact them on this website.

News8 has yet to hear back from EGLE for any comment.

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