“I’ve been getting dozens of phone calls and e-mails” from people wanting to join the lawsuit, Mr. Cole said. “We’re not actively signing people up yet because we don’t have a certified class, but we’re collecting people’s information.”
The lawsuit estimates that the class could represent “tens of thousands” of people.
“We really haven’t tried to total up the damages. That’s not the principle reason we’re pursuing this. But it’s damages that seem to get the city and WASA’s attention,” Mr. Cole said.
Mr. Ain said one person with serious neurological damage could ask for millions of dollars alone. “If this is not attacked quickly and efficiently by the city, then they’re going to expose themselves to greater liability,” he said.
District officials have criticized the lawsuit as a waste of time and money. “A lawsuit against WASA just means that WASA will have to raise their rates to pay off their claims. There’s no way around the reality that if you join these class-action suits, you’re suing your neighbors, and the people who walk away with the money are the lawyers,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “Show me the first person with an injury, and maybe we’ll have a discussion.”
Mr. Tobin said the lack of immediate evidence of negative health effects could be a challenge for the plaintiffs.
“If the plaintiffs are going to try to get damages for injuries that they actually experienced, then I’m sure that the defense is going to say that they’re asking the court to speculate. … Usually, the defense asks the court to rule on injuries that are identified. The injuries might be too speculative,” he said.
Mr. Cole, however, said the lawsuit does not depend “on a demonstration of adverse health effects. The fact of exposure has already been conclusively determined by federal health organizations to be harmful. There really is no safe exposure to lead.”
He also criticized Mr. Bullock’s remarks, calling them “a statement to public officials that they are judgment-proof, that they can’t be held responsible, because anything that might be held against them can just be passed along to the taxpayers.”
“It’s like saying, ‘No matter how bad we do, you can’t sue us because it’s just going to come out of your own pocket anyway,’” Mr. Cole said.
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