Illinois Appellate Court Decides Insurance Policy Application in Serious Car Crash Case

Marilyn Bowers was seriously injured when she was standing at a convenience store and an underinsured motorist drove into the building, seriously injuring her. Bowers and her husband were named insureds under an auto policy that General Casualty Insurance Co. issued for their three vehicles.

Each vehicle was listed on the declaration page as having underinsured motorist coverage with limits of $250,000 in return for separate premiums for $24 for a Chevrolet and $29 each for a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix and a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

On the insurance document regarding information on the policy it read: “The coverage listed below applies separately for each vehicle and are provided where a premium is shown. The limit of liability applies separately for each vehicle.”

The anti-stacking provision in the insurance policy endorsement said:

“The limit of liability shown in the schedule or in the declarations for each person for underinsured motorist coverage is our maximum limit of liability for all damages, including damage for care, loss of service or death, arising out of bodily injury sustained by any one person in any one accident. Subject to this limit for each person, the limit of liability shown in the schedule or in the declarations for each accident for underinsured motorist coverage is our maximum limit of liability for all damages for bodily injury resulting from any one accident.”

After the insured motorist’s insurer handed over its $100,000 policy limit, Bowers demanded $650,000 in uninsured benefits from General Casualty.

“The court found that the table on the declarations page, which listed each of the three UIM limits and the use of the term ‘the limit’ in the endorsement led to an ambiguous interpretation.” The court then construed the contract in favor of the Bowers and against General Casualty allowing stacking of the UIM coverage.

The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that ruling and concluded that Bowers is entitled “to aggregate the underinsured motorist coverages in the General Casualty policy.”

Illinois law, by virtue of the Illinois Insurance Code and the Illinois Supreme Court, has stated that anti-stacking provisions of insurance policies generally are not contrary to public policy. Hobbs v. Hartford Insurance Co. of the Midwest, 2014 Ill.2d 11 (2005).

The seminal case in interpreting anti-stacking clauses in insurance policies is the case of Bruder v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 156 Ill.2d 179 (1993). In the Bruder case, the Illinois Supreme Court stated that it “would not be difficult to find ambiguity” where an insurance policy listed the uninsured or the underinsured motorist coverage amounts and premium separately for each vehicle covered under the policy. The court noted that when that occurs, it is “reasonable to assume that the parties intended” that, in return for the premiums paid, equal amount so uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage were afforded regardless of language indicating in the policy.

In this case, the declarations page shows 3 UIM coverages of $250,000 and a UIM premium for each of the three Bowers’ vehicles. The language contained in the declaration page is inconsistent with the endorsements’ anti-stacking provision and creates an ambiguity. Because of the inconsistent provisions, the court stated that it must construe that language against the drafter, General Casualty.

Because the declarations page listed each vehicle of the Bowers separately in the vehicle coverages section, an ambiguity arises in the policy and the insured may reasonably presume separate UIM limits apply to each covered vehicle and that the limits could be stacked because separate UIM premiums were paid for each vehicle.

The court concluded that there was nothing in the language of the coverage information section that removed that ambiguity. Therefore, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the trial court in favor of the Bowers and against General Casualty.

Bowers v. General Casualty Ins. Co., 2014 IL App (3d) 130655 (Nov. 5, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accident cases, truck accident cases, catastrophic injury cases, construction work injury cases and motorcycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including River Grove, Arlington Heights, Deerfield, Hinsdale, Lake Forest, Wood Dale, Western Springs, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Aurora, Chicago (Pulaski Park, Gold Coast, Forest Glen, Austin, Englewood, Mid-North, UIC, Hyde Park, Greek Town, Chinatown, Canaryville), River Forest, Park Ridge, Oak Forest and Lisle, Ill.

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