Saturday, May 17, 2014

Insurance Company Sues Ill. Cities for Climate Damage

This flooding in the Chicago area last April overwhelmed storm drainage, triggering a torrent of insurance claims and, now, a lawsuit. (Credit: Army Corps of Engineers) Click to enlarge.
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.

Farmers is asking to be reimbursed for the claims it paid to homeowners who sometimes saw geysers of sewage ruin basement walls, floors and furniture.  The company says it also paid policyholders for lost income, the cost of evacuations and other damages related to declining property values.  But some analysts say that Farmers likely has a bigger prize in mind.

The company, which is a subsidiary of global giant Zurich Insurance Group, could be positioning itself to avoid future losses nationwide from claims linked to floods, sea-level rise and even lawsuits against its corporate policyholders that emit greenhouse gases, said Andrew Logan, an insurance expert with Ceres.

In 2012, a different Zurich subsidiary, Steadfast Insurance Co., won another high-profile climate fight:  Steadfast fought a claim submitted by its policyholder AES Corp., an electric utility, stemming from a lawsuit by Kivalina, Alaska, that accused AES of contributing to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide.  The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Steadfast wasn't liable for AES's pollution.

When viewed together, Zurich's two climate cases might represent a broader strategy to insulate itself from climate losses, Logan said.  The company protected itself from corporate claims related to emissions with the Steadfast case; now it seems to be separating itself from municipal losses in Illinois.

Insurance Company Sues Ill. Cities for Climate Damage

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