Farmers Insurance filed nine class action suits against nearly 200 communities in the Chicago area, saying that local governments should have prepared for rising global temperatures that have led to heavier rains and flooding.
The suits charge that the municipalities did not do enough to fortify their sewers and stormwater drains, causing the insurance company to pay out claims that could have been averted.
While legal observers say the chances of Farmers winning the cases are slim, there may be another motive behind the strategy: insurance companies want to push cities to invest in prevention as a way to avoid future lawsuits.
The Farmers’ cases raise the question of how city governments should allocate funds in preparation for natural disasters.
Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, told Reuters that he expects more lawsuits of this type. If disasters happen more frequently, it’s possible that cities would bear more legal responsibility to prepare for them, he indicated.