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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Insurers sue Chicago-area towns in bid to get flood money

by Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2014
For years, Gurnee has projected the rise of the Des Plaines River before heavy rains, purchased up property in flood zones and put out sandbags to avert rainwater breaches.
Still, the village is among nearly 200 communities in the Chicago location getting sued by a main insurance enterprise that is arguing the municipalities did not do adequate to protect against final year's record flooding. The suits, filed by Farmers Insurance coverage Group, seek to force these communities &mdash and by extension their taxpayers and, ironically, their insurers &mdash to pay back Farmers for claims it paid out for flooding in spring 2013.
"Their underwriters must have had a brain cramp that day," Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik quipped. She said the areas of flood techniques are properly-documented on FEMA maps. "You can't cease the river."
But Farmers asserts that flooding is no act of God. Filed as a different spring rainy season commences, the lawsuits also make the novel argument that global warming will make such problems additional frequent and government need to be carrying out extra to program for that.
Though some legal professionals question the merits of the case, they acknowledge it raises a fundamental challenge: When floods occur, who really should spend for the damages?
The suits, filed in Cook and the collar counties final month, seek class-action status for all property owners whose house was broken by the April 2013 flooding. The litigation does not cite the amount of damages sought or paid by Farmers, but federal payments for losses statewide, excluding these covered by insurance, totaled a lot more than $200 million, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
The suits argue that public agencies ought to have taken more emergency measures, such as emptying their reservoirs just before the rains hit and employing far more sandbags and inflatable flood barriers. That, the suits assert, could have prevented challenges such as sanitary sewers backing up into residences so forcefully that "geysers of sewer water shot out from the floor drains."
"The common, central and basic problem in this action is regardless of whether the defendants have failed to safely operate retention basins, detention basins, tributary enclosed sewers and tributary open sewers/drains for the goal of safely conveying stormwater," the lawsuit states.
The suit is an intense example of "subrogation," by which insurance coverage providers spend out claims but then go immediately after yet another celebration to pay for the damages. The practice is common on a smaller scale, such as when insurers spend for damages from a car or truck accident, then go after the driver who caused the crash.
But attorneys and officials contacted for this story said they hadn't heard of that sort of a claim on such a broad scale. The insurance industry defends the practice as justly in search of compensation from the parties that really should be held accountable.
But Margo Ely, executive director of the Illinois Danger Management Association, which represents 55 municipalities named in the suit, noted that if neighborhood governments have to spend out anything in the lawsuit, it really is taxpayers who in the end foot the bill.
"I view it as double-dipping," she stated. "The ultimate payer would be the exact same persons who are paying the insurance coverage firms to insure them: our residents and taxpayers."
Though each municipality could argue individually it need to be removed from the suit, Ely mentioned it would be a lot a lot more effective to make a blanket defense of tort immunity, which protects municipalities from a broad variety of lawsuits.
The insurance coverage corporation declined to comment beyond a prepared statement: "Farmers has taken what we believe is the necessary action to recover payments produced on behalf of our customers, for damages caused by what we believe to be a completely preventable challenge, as well as to protect against it from happening once more."
Though the Farmers suit casts an unusually broad net, there are equivalent instances in recent legal history.
In 2001, an apartment owner filed a class-action suit against the city of Chicago primarily based on claims that a device known as a rainblocker, which restricted drainage into sewers, in fact caused flooding by backing water up into residences. That suit lost in the trial and appellate courts, which noted that city officials had discretion in judging costs and positive aspects, but it took 11 years.
Last year, an appellate court ruled against a man who sued Elmhurst, saying negligent sewer upkeep cause sewage backups in his house. Each rulings said tort immunity protected the municipalities.
One resident whose residence suffered harm in last year's floods wishes regional governments would do a lot more to stop flooding but is unsure of Farmers' strategy.
Ronald Madon, 75, endured nine floods in 26 years even though living on a channel in Fox Lake. He was forced to move out right after flooding in April of final year filled his household with a handful of feet of water. He's been living with his daughter in Lake in the Hills because.
He was authorized for a federal grant of $30,000 to elevate his home but expects the fees will be far extra. He's not confident what to make of the Farmers suit, saying, "I don't know what the village could do to prevent the water," Madon said.

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