Insurance Company Sues Illinois Cities over Climate Change Damages

Mounting evidence, including the recent findings of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, show that the impacts of climate change are already being felt. A lawsuit is driving that point home: Farmers Insurance Co. has filed nine class-action lawsuits against dozens of Chicago-area municipalities, alleging that they knew climate change posed flooding risks, but failed to take appropriate mitigation efforts prior to significant flooding in April 2013. Farmers Insurance Co. is claiming negligence on the part of the Chicago-area municipalities, asserting they had prior knowledge of a link between climate change and an increased risk of flooding. One suit, filed in Cook County, cites a 2008 climate change action plan as evidence of prior knowledge. Farmers is demanding reimbursement for claims paid out to their customers whose property was damaged as a result of storm surge and sewage overflow.

This lawsuit indicates that climate change will not only have environmental impacts, but political and legal impacts as well. While some officials are questioning whether the precedent-setting lawsuit is a first move on the part of insurance companies to avoid huge, climate change-related losses, this lawsuit shows that issues of accountability and burden-sharing will become increasingly relevant as the risks associated with climate change become clearer. As a result, it is vitally important that local health departments recognize climate change as a present threat and continue with mitigation and adaptation efforts.

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About Erin Roberts

Erin Roberts, MPH, is a Program Analyst on the Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response team at NACCHO. Her work includes broadening the public's access to medical countermeasures during a severe pandemic, fostering collaboration between public health and pharmacy, and contributing to NACCHO's food safety initiatives.

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