Insurance company sues Will County, Bolingbrook over flood damage

Farmers Insurance Co. has filed a lawsuit against Will County and 12 county municipalities, including Bolingbrook, alleging local governments failed to properly act to prevent damage caused by heavy rains last spring.

The Will County lawsuit, filed April 17, lists the county and 12 municipalities as defendants: Bolingbrook, Joliet, Plainfield, New Lenox, Shorewood, Frankfort, Lockport, Manhattan, Channahon, Homer Glen, Naperville and University Park. Similar lawsuits were filed the same day in Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle and McHenry counties.

Stuart Brody, the insurance company’s attorney, and Trent Frager, spokesman for Farmers Insurance, both declined to say how much the company is trying to recover in damages.

The rain caused widespread flooding, and led Gov. Pat Quinn to declare 48 counties – including Will County – state disaster areas.

The Will County 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.

The Will County suit claims the county and local governments failed to safely operate retention basins, detention basins, tributary enclosed sewers and tributary open sewers/drains for the purpose of safely conveying stormwater, resulting in excessive flood damage to certain properties.

“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.

The heavy rainfall seen in Will County last spring was “not an Act of God,” the suit states.

Rather, the rainfall was “ordinary” and “reasonably foreseeable” and the towns were aware of known defects in their stormwater sewer systems and sanitary water systems based on prior investigations of sewer water invasions and prior studies.

On April 19, 2013 – one day after the two-day flooding event outlined in the lawsuit – the Shorewood River reached a flood crest of 11.53 feet, the second-highest level recorded since the National Weather Service began recording the river’s levels in 1942. The river’s highest-ever recorded level was in 1996, with a 14.03-foot flood crest.

The east branch of the DuPage River in Bolingbrook experienced record-high flood crest levels of 25.85 feet on April 18, 2013, topping previous NWS records dating back to 1996. Major flood stage for the East Branch of the DuPage River is 23 feet.

The Des Plaines River near Des Plaines experienced record-high flood crest levels of 10.88 feet on April 19, 2013. Without a gauge located at the river near Joliet, National Weather Service officials said they do not have historic levels for that particular location.

Frager said the company filed the lawsuit because it believes 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.

Anastasia Tuskey, spokeswoman for County Executive Larry Walsh, said the office is aware of the lawsuit but has not yet been served. Citing the ongoing nature of the litigation, Tuskey declined to comment further.

Jim Boan, attorney for the village of Bolingbrook, declined to comment.

Mayors from several towns listed as defendants in the suit did not return requests for comment.

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RAINFALL AMOUNTS

48-hour rainfall totals for April 17 to 18, 2013

• Naperville (DuPage County): 7.34 inches

• Plainfield: 5.48 inches

• Bolingbrook: 5.4 inches

• Manhattan: 5.1 inches

• Joliet: 4.21 inches

Note: The amounts were taken from 48-hour rainfall reports from the National Weather Service. In some instances, a municipality may measure rain in more than one location; the amounts listed were the highest total for that municipality

Source: National Weather Service