Farmers Insurance Co. is suing Kane County and 12 of its municipalities in a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the local governments failed to take adequate steps to prevent flood damage from torrential rains in April 2013.
Also named in similar class-action lawsuits filed last week are Cook, Will, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties and all or nearly all their municipalities.
The Kane lawsuit – filed on behalf of the insurance company, those insured with the company and property owners who sustained extensive flood damage – alleges the county and local governments had “adequate time and opportunity” to take action before the flooding that took place April 17 and 18, 2013.
Named as defendants are Kane County, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, North Aurora, Sugar Grove, South Elgin, Gilberts, Aurora, Montgomery, Elgin, Dundee Township and Big Rock.
The suit claims that local governments ignored the effects of climate change on rainfall and took no steps, or inadequate ones, to address the problem.
"During the past 40 years, climate change in Kane County has caused rains to be of greater volume, greater intensity and greater duration than pre-1970 rainfall history evidenced," according to the lawsuit. "Rendering the rainfall frequency return tables employed by the reclamation district and each named municipal defendant inaccurate and obsolete."
As recently as 2008, municipalities "adopted the scientific principle that climate change caused increases in rainfall amount, intensity and duration ... as evidenced by their adoption of the Chicago Climate Action Plan," the lawsuit states.
Last April's rains were "not an 'Act of God' " but within "the climate-change adjusted 100-year rainfall return frequency, relating to the Chicago Climate Action Plan."
"Many sanitary sewer water invasions ... were so rapid that geysers of sewer water shot out from floor drains, toilets, showers and other basement floor openings,” the suit states.
Farmer's attorney Stuart Brody did not return phone messages seeking comment. Trent Frager, spokesman for Farmers Insurance, would not say how much the company is trying to recover in damages, but the Kane suit seeks a minimum of $5 million.
Frager said the company filed the lawsuit because officials believe the damage caused was “completely preventable.”
“Farmers has taken what we believe is the necessary action to recover payments made on behalf of our customers, for damages caused by what we believe to be a completely preventable issue, as well as to prevent it from happening again," Frager said in a statement.
Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen and Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said they had not seen the complaint and could not comment about it.
Sugar Grove Village President Sean Michels said he knew of only a handful of houses in a couple of subdivisions that were flooded last year. He said there were fewer flooding incidents because the village had taken steps to mitigate them.
"I wonder why they're in the insurance business if they do not want to assume the risk," Michels said. "Obviously, this is something the attorneys will get wealthy over, and we will pay higher premiums."
"Anybody can sue anybody for anything," Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said.
"After the 1996 flood event, Batavia spent several million dollars and totally rebuilt much of our sewer systems," Schielke said. "Every area that was impacted, we spent the money ... and have not had any major problems I'm aware of in recent years."
Schielke said building additional flood control measures would amount to a major property tax hike to pay for it.
The case is scheduled to be in Kane County Court on July 3.