Water crisis in Jackson and Mississippi leads to lawsuit against city and Siemens

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  • Court asked to order necessary repairs, award damages to city and contractors
  • The city is already facing lawsuits over water quality before the recent crisis

(Reuters) – Jackson, Mississippi and engineering firm Siemens Corp, which the city hired to install new water meters in 2010, have been the subject of a proposed class action lawsuit over the failure of a water treatment plant last month that left residents without drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed Friday evening in federal court in Jackson, also names city officials, including Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, as well as Jackson-based engineering firm Trilogy Engineering Services, which was hired to work on the water system in 2015. He asks the court to order the city to make necessary repairs to the water supply system and award unspecified damages.

Lumumba’s office declined to comment. The two companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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The current crisis began on August 29 when flooding knocked the OB Curtis water plant offline, completely cutting off running water for the approximately 150,000 residents of the state capital and approximately 30,000 people in the surroundings. State and federal authorities declared a state of emergency and began distributing bottled water.

The crisis came after years of water supply problems for the majority black city. A boil water advisory before drinking due to possible contaminants had already been in place for a month, and regulators had warned of high lead levels as early as 2015.

The city is already facing a class action lawsuit filed last October over these issues, with plaintiffs alleging that children were harmed by lead. This case is only in its infancy.

The new lawsuit, brought by four residents, includes similar allegations, while also focusing on the August 2022 sewage plant failure, claiming it was left in a state of disrepair.

The lawsuit also accuses Siemens of setting the stage for the problem by missing its contract, installing faulty water meters that resulted in high uncollectible bills and cost the city $175 million in revenue. While Jackson sued Siemens and settled for $90 million, roughly the value of his original contract, he was unable to pay for necessary repairs, the plaintiffs said.

Trilogy was hired to fix the contamination issues, but made the problem worse by recommending the use of soda ash to prevent corrosion, which tended to clump together and clog pipes, the plaintiffs said.

Jackson officials announced Sept. 4 that water pressure had returned to normal, but said further setbacks were possible and continued to advise boiling water.

The contaminated water litigation in Flint, Michigan, which saw lead levels soar in its water in 2014, ended in a $626 million settlement.

The case is Sterling et al v. City of Jackson Mississippi et al, US District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, No. 3:22-cv-00531.

For Plaintiffs: Mark Chalos of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Travis and others

For defendants: not available

Read more:

Mississippi city says water pressure restored for now but setbacks possible

Biden declares urgency over Mississippi water crisis

‘A total crisis’: Life in Mississippi’s capital disrupted by water loss

Federal judge approves $626 million water settlement in Flint, Michigan

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Brendan Pierson

Thomson Reuters

Brendan Pierson advises on product liability litigation and all areas of healthcare law. He can be reached at [email protected]

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