FLINT, Mich. (MIRS News) – A federal jury Thursday told the court that it cannot continue its deliberations due to “physical and emotional health of jurors.”
As a result, Magistrate Judge David Grand ruled a mistrial after the jury twice shared Thursday that it could not reach a verdict because if they continued it will “only result in stress and anxiety with no unanimous decision without with someone having to surrender” his or her “honest convictions solely for the purpose of returning a verdict.”
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“In my view, the jury has spoken,” he said, noting that continuing “would place undue pressure and coercion on the jury.”
The lawsuit was brought by four Flint children, who alleged engineering firms Veolia North America (VNA) and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) were professionally negligent for faulty advice given to the city during the water crisis, which began in April 2014.
The engineering firms’ attorneys argued then-state and city leaders, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, were responsible for the water crisis, which occurred when the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River.
Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Corey Stern, of New York, said the team appreciated the “work and dedication undertaken and exhibited by the jury,” and they are “eager to re-try” the case as soon as possible.
“Bellwether trials are designed to teach everyone about various issues so that as each case is tried going forward, the parties have more information each time to assist them in narrowing the issues,” Stern said. “We learned plenty and will use all of the knowledge we gained to help us when we re-try this case for our four kids, and for all of the other trials that will follow and while we are disappointed, by all accounts we had seven of eight jurors on our side, and that gives us great pride, and makes us even more determined.”
New York attorney Moshe Maimon, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, asked the court to instruct the jury to continue deliberations until seven of the eight jurors could reach a verdict.
But VNA and LAN attorneys, disagreed, saying the plaintiffs agreed to and the jury was instructed that its verdict had to be unanimous. The attorneys said the jury’s note is not about one juror’s health and mental welfare, but those of “jurors.”
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Earlier in the day one juror cried in the courtroom.
Grand rejected a less-than-unanimous verdict suggestion, saying this “is not a focus group,” but a federal court where “a unanimous decision is required.”
Grand said the jury has made clear it is hopelessly deadlocked, acknowledging that they have been on time and ready to do the hard work expected of juries.
The trial took 76 days – from jury selection to Thursday’s mistrial – spread out over seven months, and saw 45 people testify either in-person or via recorded depositions.
Attorney Hunter Shkolnik, who represents Flint residents whose civil cases are pending, saw Thursday’s action as a victory for Maimon and Stern.
“It is clear from what was heard in court that this jury was clearly in favor of plaintiffs with a single holdout,” he said. “… We are ready for the next trial. It will be shorter and it will be the death knell to VNA and LAN.”
In closing arguments, Maimon placed 25% of the blame onto consulting firm LAN and 50% onto VNA, with the rest to the city and former state officials.
The water crisis occurred when the city, then under state-ordered emergency manager control, switched its drinking water source from Detroit to the Flint River, which went untreated, allowing lead to leach. The city switched back to Detroit water in October 2015.
LAN and VNA argued in trial that the children were not injured.
The state of Michigan, Flint, McLaren Regional Hospital and Rowe Professional Services avoided trial by reaching a $626 million settlement.
U.S. District Judge Judith Levy approved that settlement in November.
Levy had presided over the trial but stepped away recently due to a medical issue, according to the court.
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