Weitz & Luxenberg managing attorney Paul F. Novak and associate attorney Gregory Stamatopoulos have been nominated for the prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. They have been selected by the nonprofit legal advocacy organization Public Justice, originally named the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. Both Mr. Novak and Mr. Stamatopoulos are headquartered in W&L’s Detroit office and are being recognized for their litigation work on the Flint Water Crisis case in Michigan as part of a dedicated team of attorneys from several firms.
The Trial Lawyer of the Year Award “celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of an attorney or team of attorneys working on behalf of individuals and groups that have suffered grave injustice or abuse.” This year, the award is being presented at Public Justice’s 40th Annual Gala and Awards Presentation on Monday, July 18, 2022. (1)
“It’s a great honor to be nominated for this award,” Mr. Stamatopoulos says. “To even be considered is a privilege. Even more, we’re excited with the outcome of the Flint water litigation. The settlement is one of the largest, if not the largest, in Michigan’s history. To be able to achieve justice for the people harmed by this crisis is incredibly gratifying.”
Flint Water Crisis Lawsuit
W&L is thrilled to see our efforts come full circle — recognizing the superlative achievement of our Detroit attorneys in helping to secure a $600 million settlement. The settlement is on behalf of more than 90,000 businesses and residents in the region who found themselves victims of deadly water contamination.
Five years ago, W&L opened its Detroit office specifically to tackle the Flint Water Crisis. When deciding who should head this office, we didn’t have to think twice before identifying Mr. Novak. Not only a renowned litigator, Mr. Novak is a native of this region. He was born and raised in Flint, Michigan.
“I took this fight personally,” Mr. Novak emphasizes. “I have ties with the community. I know people who live here. They have had to live with this catastrophe for years. They have faced the very preventable, life-threatening public health crisis of lead-contaminated drinking water, bathing water, and cooking water. To see a just resolution is immensely satisfying.”
Flint Case Background
Litigation for the Flint Water Crisis began in earnest when the U.S. federal district court judge overseeing the litigation appointed W&L to the Plaintiffs Steering Committee. For more than five years, the legal team worked to expose the harm done to residents and businesses by the state of Michigan and its government employees.
Prior to 2014, the city of Flint purchased safe drinking water from Detroit. In April of that year, in an effort to save money, the Flint municipal government, state officials, and water engineering firms under state management came up with a plan. They decided to redirect contaminated water from the Flint River into the city’s drinking water. This switch meant that over 90,000 residents and businesses in Flint began receiving toxic water. (2)
High Lead Levels Caused Problems
The lead concentrations were elevated over the legal limit determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pipes corroded. People developed life-threatening illnesses and significant health problems. Residents complained their water looked bad, smelled bad, and tasted foul. Instead of responding to the crisis and correcting the problem, state officials and the engineers recommended doubling the dose of the highly acidic chemical ferric chloride. This action made everything worse. People were being poisoned and real estate was rendered worthless. (3)
Flint residents were forced to endure the crisis for more than a year. The governor declared a state of emergency and President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency. (4)
Situation Began Years Ago
On March 31, 2016, Flint residents officially filed a complaint against the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, and multiple city and state employees under the Clean Water Act. An amended complaint was later filed on September 29, 2017. This suit consolidated more than a dozen class and individual lawsuits and expanded residents’ claims to include state and federal constitutional and civil rights violations. (5)
Finally, on November 10, 2021, the district court granted final approval of a $600 million settlement. Additional litigation against the national engineering firms charged with negligence is ongoing. (6)
It may have taken years to reach this landmark settlement, but the resolution provides “a long overdue measure of justice.” (7)
Novak Is an Experienced Litigator
Mr. Novak has a renowned career of litigating complex civil cases, particularly when going up against corporate offenders. He has also been appointed by state and federal courts to leadership positions in plaintiffs’ class action cases and tried multiple antitrust and environmental enforcement cases to final judgment.
Mr. Novak is often recognized as one of Michigan’s Super Lawyers, as an AV-rated attorney by Martindale Hubbell, and as a top plaintiff antitrust lawyer in the country by the Global Competition Review’s Who’s Who in International Competition Law.
Stamatopoulos Represents Plaintiffs Regularly
Mr. Stamatopoulos has extensive experience representing plaintiffs in litigation involving complex class action suits and False Claims Act “qui tam” cases. In addition, throughout his career, he has litigated cases in both federal and state courts and represented plaintiffs harmed by the health care, pharmaceutical, and defense industries.