Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. is suing Chicago for failing to prevent flooding related to climate change in what experts say could be a landmark case that accelerates local efforts to grapple with the impacts of climbing temperatures.
The insurance company filed nine class-action lawsuits last month alleging that dozens of Chicago-area municipalities are responsible for the damage caused by a two-day downpour last year in April. The company claims that local officials are aware that climate change is causing heavier rainfalls but failed to prevent sewage backups in more than 600 homes by draining water from the region’s system of tunnels and retention basins before the storm.
The lawsuit could land squarely on the engineering firms that designed the stormwater system, legal experts say. That would happen after the municipalities turn to them and claim that the firms were negligent.
In that sense, the case has a better chance to succeed than perhaps the best-known climate lawsuit in which Alaskan villagers claimed that a handful of fossil fuel companies contributed to the climatic effects around Kivalina, an coastal city that could be displaced by rising seawater.
“I think it’s a sounder legal argument,” J. Wylie Donald, a partner at the law firm McCarter & English, said of the Farmers suit. “How are you going to show that a power plant in Ohio caused damage in Alaska?”
It’s less difficult to show that Chicago officials failed to consider the impacts of climate change when designing the stormwater system, he said.
Wylie also wrote about the case on the McCarter & English Climate Lawyers blog, which led to the interview.