(CNSNews.com) – The Farmers Insurance Company is suing 98 Illinois towns, Cook County, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, asserting they were insufficiently prepared to deal with the effects of global warming that allegedly caused heavy rains and flooding in those areas last spring, damaging property, which led to expensive claims against the company.
“During the past 40 years, climate change in Cook County has caused rains to be of greater volume, greater intensity and greater duration than pre-1970 rainfall history evidenced,” reads the lawsuit, adding that the infrastructure systems used by the towns to manage the heavy rainfall apparently are “inaccurate and obsolete.”
“This defendant knew or should have known that climate change in Cook County has resulted in greater rainfall volume, greater rainfall intensity and greater rainfall duration than pre-1970 rainfall history evidenced, resulting in greater stormwater runoff from a rainfall with Cook County and its Watersheds,” state the plaintiffs.
As a result, the “defendant knew that, because of climate change-causing increased rainfall,” it “had to increase stormwater storage capacity of its stormwater sewer system(s) to prevent sewer water invasions,” claim the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit also states that in 2008, Cook County, the City of Chicago, and other municipalities had “adopted the scientific principle that climate change has caused increases in rainfall amount” and to help address the problem had adopted the Chicago Climate Action Plan.
The heavy rains and flooding that occurred April 17-18, 2013 caused damage in at least 600 homes in the Chicago area that were covered by Farmers, a national company that insures vehicles, homes and small businesses.
Some streets were underwater from overflowing sewer drains, and sewer water damaged houses and other property, with some leaks so sudden that geysers of filthy water reportedly shot out from floor drains, toilets, showers and other basement floor openings, according to the lawsuit.
Farmers Insurance Exchange, its subsidiaries, and the Illinois Farmers Insurance Company are the plaintiffs named in the 143-page lawsuit, and some of the 98 defendants include the City of Chicago, Cook County, the City of Evanston, and the Village of LaGrange. (See Farmers Lawsuit.pdf)
The class-action lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on April 16, 2014.
A spokesperson from Farmers Insurance, Luis Sahagun, said that by suing the municipalities the company “has taken what we believe is the necessary action to recover payments made on behalf of our customers.”
They maintain that the damages were “caused by what we believe to be a completely preventable issue,” said Sahugen, and that the lawsuit will “prevent [such damage] from happening again.”
No exact dollar amount was cited for damages relief in the lawsuit. However, the document says the plaintiffs are seeking the “award of compensatory damages against this defendant … in excess of the jurisdictional minimum of this court,” and “such other relief” to which the plaintiffs “may be entitled.”
“The central question is whether the Defendants have failed to safely operate retention basins, watershed basins … for the purpose of safely conveying stormwater within the Defendant’s territorial jurisdictions,” says the lawsuit.
The rainfall on April 17-18 of last year was especially heavy for that time of year, with NASA weather data reporting an accumulation of 5-6 inches in 24 hours in the Chicago area. In addition, rain from earlier in the week had saturated the ground.
But the lawsuit says bad weather and insufficient preparation by municipalities to deal with the effects of climate change are to blame for the damage.
The lawsuit cites several things the municipalities could have done to prevent or mitigate the flooding, such as placing sandbags, constructing levees, or pumping down stormwater storage basins and sewers.
“The likelihood and magnitude of the potential danger of its failure to manage sewer water was foreseeable,” the lawsuit claims.
Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, believes that the lawsuit went overboard when it inserted climate change into the equation.
He told CNSNews.com, “The Chicago area probably ought to do more for planning how to prevent damages from extreme weather events, but that really doesn't have anything to do with global warming. It has to do with the responsibilities of government to plan for disaster. In some sense, the reasons for why they're not prepared is irrelevant.”
Ebell said this type of litigation as setting “an extremely bad precedent. I think that the claims of climate change are going to be used in the financial world by anyone who can claim it as, you know, a hook to either claim some damages or avoid responsibility for damages.”
He also believes there is no evidence for the claim that climate change is causing more incidents of severe weather, citing research from Professor Robert Pielke Jr., at University of Colorado at Boulder and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
One lawyer for the defendants, Michael Del Galdo, founding attorney of Del Galdo Law Group in Berwyn, Ill., finds the lawsuit “outrageous.”
He told the Chicago Tribune, "Farmers Insurance couldn't sue Mother Nature to cover their costs; so, they chose to squeeze suburban communities and their taxpayers and shove their cost of doing business on them."
CNSNews.com contacted the law offices representing Farmers and the municipalities to find out the next step in the legal proceedings, but neither office responded before this story was posted.