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Charter Oak Fire Ins. Co. v. Snyder

OCTOBER 1, 1974.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. FRED H. GEIGER, Judge, presiding.


This is a declaratory judgment in which the plaintiff, The Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company, claims that it owed no obligation of insurance coverage to its insured William Snyder with respect to an automobile accident between Snyder and defendant-appellant Carl Geng. After a trial without a jury the circuit court of Lake County found in favor of the plaintiff insurance company on the ultimate issue. In declaring the rights of the parties the court found first, that a policy of liability insurance issued by the plaintiff was in effect at the time of the automobile collision between cars operated by its insured Snyder and Geng, the party injured in the collision and second, that the plaintiff was relieved from liability on such policy because of its insured's failure to give notice as required by the policy. Geng has appealed from the court's determination that notice was not properly given and the plaintiff has cross-appealed from the court's determination that its policy was in effect at the time of the collision.

Since in our view of this case we find no reason for disturbing the judgment of the trial court it will be unnecessary to consider the cross-appeal, and we therefore for the purpose of this appeal accept as correct without further discussion the determination by the trial court that there was a policy of liability insurance in effect issued by the plaintiff-cross-appellant in favor of Snyder, its insured, at the time of the collision.

Carl Geng was injured as a result of an automobile collision between his car and one operated by William Snyder in Lake County, Illinois, on November 26, 1968. His injuries were severe and on January 15, 1969, he filed his complaint in the circuit court of Lake County seeking to recover damages from Snyder. On the 12th day of July, 1971, a stipulation was entered into by attorneys for Geng, Snyder, Government Employees Insurance Company and Charter Oak by which stipulation the parties agreed that a judgment might be entered against Snyder and in favor of Geng for $50,000 payable solely out of insurance. This amount was computed on the basis of the injuries sustained which were in excess of the amount of the judgment but with regard for the insurance policies issued by Government Employees and Charter Oak which each had a limit of $25,000. Government Employees paid $25,000, the amount of its total liability, to Geng and such company is not a party to this appeal. At the time of the settlement it was known by the parties that Charter Oak claimed that it was not liable and subsequently Charter Oak commenced this supplemental declaratory action seeking a court determination of its liability.

In the summer of 1966 William Snyder, a single man, was in the United States Navy. He was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his parents resided in Curwensville, Pennsylvania. In September of 1966 he went to the Bellmore Insurance Agency in Curwensville and applied for insurance coverage. Pursuant to his application a policy of insurance was issued to Snyder by Travelers Insurance Company. The address used in the policy was the Curwensville address of Snyder's mother. When the policy came through from Travelers the agency mailed the policy and their statement to Snyder at the Curwensville address and Snyder paid the bill.

During the month of August, 1967, Snyder was transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Great Lakes, Illinois, and while en route he stopped in Pennsylvania and went to the agency office.

Because of some prior accidents Travelers elected and notified the agency that it would renew Synder's coverage only on a sub-standard basis using the Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company policy in lieu of a Travelers policy.

A new policy showing the Charter Oak Company name was issued by Travelers. The agency sent the policy and the bill for the premium to Snyder at his mother's Curwensville, Pennsylvania, address on September 7, 1967, and the bill was paid.

In September of 1968, the renewal policy was written and, following the procedure of the last 2 years, was sent to Snyder with the bill at his mother's address in Curwensville. Snyder, however, did not pay the premium statement until December 6, 1969.

According to John Bellmore, who did business as the Bellmore Insurance Agency, he continued to send monthly statements to Snyder at the Curwensville address for the policy in effect for the period September, 1968, to September, 1969, but received no response. After a conversation with Snyder's mother Bellmore sent a letter to Snyder at his Great Lakes address dated November 19, 1969, requesting payment for the prior year the policy was in effect. As a result of this letter Snyder on December 6, 1969, paid the amount requested by Bellmore.

According to Snyder the November 19, 1969, letter from Bellmore was the first and only inkling that the Charter Oak policy had been issued for the September, 1968-1969, period because after moving to Great Lakes he had requested his mother in Curwensville to tell the Bellmore agency that he did not wish to renew the policy. Snyder's mother did not notify the agency. Supposing his mother to have so notified the Bellmore agency Snyder applied for and received insurance from the Government Employees Insurance Company which was in effect after September, 1968. As indicated earlier, the collision between the Geng and Snyder cars occurred on November 26, 1968 some 11 months prior to Snyder learning of the Charter Oak policy. What happened before and after Snyder learned of the policy regarding his notice to the company of the collision with Geng is the principal source of the controversy which we shall discuss on this appeal.

In considering the complaint for declaratory judgment and the answer thereto the evidence presented to the trial court was entirely documentary. The principal documents bearing on this controversy are the insurance policy, Snyder's deposition, Bellmore's deposition and the letter of November 19, 1969. There were other exhibits tending to support or expand some of the matters referred to in the depositions.

In seeking to reverse the judgment of the trial court appellant Geng urges that under the circumstances the provision of the insurance policy regarding notice of the details of the collision was properly given to the insurer and ...

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