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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Floods Bring Suit to|Every Chicagoland Town

CHICAGO (CN) - Farmers Insurance sued Cook County and every municipality in it, claiming they failed to maintain sewer systems that could handle increased rainfall due to climate change, causing widespread sewer backups during heavy rains.

The Illinois Farmers Insurance Company and affiliates filed a class action against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Cook County, the City of Chicago, and all the dozens of municipalities in Cook County, in Chancery Court.

"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, rendering the rainfall frequency return tables employed by the reclamation district and each named municipal defendant inaccurate and obsolete, the 145-page lawsuit states.

"In or around 2008, the reclamation district, the County of Cook, the City of Chicago, and other municipal defendants adopted the scientific principle that climate change has caused increases in rain fall amount, intensity, and duration during a rain in the Cook County, as evidenced by their adoption of the Chicago Climate Action Plan."

In other words, Farmers claims, the defendants knew they would need to increase the stormwater storage capacity of their sewer systems to prevent sewer water flooding.

But despite plenty of advance time to prepare, defendants "failed to provide safe, adequate stormwater control storage for stormwater, including but not limited to raising the banks such as through the use of quickly water-inflatable property protection systems, sandbags, or other quick solutions," Farmers says.

Due to these failures, the rainfall on April 17-18, 2013 caused sewer water to overflow and invade more than 600 homes or businesses insured by Farmers Insurance, the company says.

In these two days, more than 7 inches of rain fell across Cook County, causing the county to declare a state of emergency and issue a flood warning. April 2013 set a record as Chicago's wettest April in history.

Farmers claims that the water invasions were so fast that "geysers of sewer water shot out from floor drains, toilets, showers and other basement floor openings in members of the plaintiffs' class," and some people had to evacuate part or all of their homes.

The Greater Chicago Water Reclamation District oversees the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, an engineering project begun in 1972, which has completed 109.4 miles of deep, large-diameter stormwater tunnels that have a total capacity of 2.3 billion gallons. Three reservoirs, scheduled to be completed next decade, will increase the system's storage capacity to 17.5 billion gallons.

Farmers seeks compensatory damages for negligent maintenance, failure to remedy known dangerous conditions, and illegal seizure.

It is represented by Stuart Brody with Sneckenberg, Thompson & Brody.

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