The bottom two or three rows of safe-deposit boxes at a Chase bank in Northfield were flooded last week after the Chicago area was hit by torrential downpours, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.
A few hundred boxes were exposed to floodwaters and their owners were called in by bank officials to check the contents.
William Hielscher, a lawyer, said his mother's safe-deposit box contained a string of pearls ruined by ink from water-logged photographs. He said he was asked to sign a release stating the bank was not responsible for the losses.
"I find that to be unconscionable," he said.
Hielscher said he refused to sign the release and encouraged others to do the same.
"I think people are under the mistaken impression that the bank is protecting their valuables the same way the bank is protecting their money," he said.
Tom Kelly, a Chase spokesman in Chicago, said the financial institution's no-liability policy is "stated clearly in the agreement" customers sign upon renting safe-deposit boxes.
Kelly said the bank is considering covering some of the customers' losses and encouraged them to file claims.
"We used the same formula we used in Hurricane Sandy," Kelly said. "We called customers and said, 'Can you come see how your box is affected?' They look at the inventory and submit a claim for possible losses."