Jackson Residents File Class Action Lawsuit Against City After Recent Water Crisis

Jackson Residents File Class Action Lawsuit Against City After Recent Water Crisis
A member of the National Guard places a case of water in the back of a car at the State Fair Grounds in Jackson, Mississippi, on Sept. 2, 2022. (Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Residents of Jackson, Mississippi have filed a class action lawsuit against the city and engineering firms after a recent water crisis left thousands of people without drinkable and running water.

The suit, filed late on Sept. 16 in federal court (pdf), alleges that Jackson’s water supply has been long neglected and ultimately led to it being completely shut down in late August, leaving over 150,000 people in the city and about 30,000 in the surrounding areas without running water.

“These residents lack more than just drinking water, or water for making powdered baby formula, cooking, showering, or laundry,” the complaint brought by four Jackson residents reads. “During the long period where the city pipes had no water pressure—and were unable to facilitate the flow of water—residents of Jackson could not flush their toilets for days at a time.”

Plaintiffs said that even prior to the latest water crisis in Jackson, the city’s water supply was “not fit for human consumption” because of high levels of lead and other contaminants.

“This public health crisis, decades in the making, was wholly foreseeable by Defendants’ actions and has left Jackson residents in an untenable position—without access to clean, safe water in 2022 in a major United States city,” plaintiffs said in the complaint.

Repairs and Damages

Among multiple requests, plaintiffs are seeking a ruling from the court to have the city make necessary repairs to the water systems, as well as to award an unspecified amount of money for damages.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the City of Jackson; Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and former mayor Tony Yarber; former directors of public works Kishia Powell, Robert Miller, and Jerriot Smash; as well as Siemens Corp, Siemens Industry, and Trilogy Engineering Services.

The city hired Siemens Corp. to install new water meters in 2010. It also hired Trilogy Engineering Services, a Jackson-based engineering firm, to work on the city’s water systems in 2016. The plaintiffs are suing the companies for “professional and simple negligence in exacerbating the catastrophic, preventable, and ongoing public health crisis.”

Lumumba’s office, Siemens, and Trilogy Engineering Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The latest water crisis was triggered after one of the city’s two main water treatment facilities—the O.B. Curtis Water Plant—failed on Aug. 29 due to long-standing complications that were exacerbated by heavy rain and flooding of the Pearl River. This prompted weeks-long efforts to distribute bottled water across the city. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and the Biden administration had also separately declared states of emergency for Jackson on Aug. 30.

Last week, Mississippi’s health department determined that clean water had been restored to Jackson and the state lifted its boil water notice for the city. The boil water advisory had been issued in late July when tests showed high levels of turbidity.

Jackson is facing a separate federal lawsuit filed in October 2021 by attorneys representing around 1,800 children. The suit alleges that city and state governments failed to stop lead contamination in the city’s water supply, harming and poisoning children. Corey Stern, the lead attorney in the case, said the legal challenge is at least a few years away from being resolved, reported WLBT.