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Menke v. Country Mutual Insurance Co.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 22, 1980.

ERVIN MENKE, ADM'R., APPELLANT,

v.

COUNTRY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, the Hon. Stephen Kernan, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE KLUCZYNSKI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The issue in this case is whether plaintiff, Ervin Menke, is entitled to stack insurance coverage under three $10,000 uninsured motorist provisions for a total recovery of $30,000. Defendant, Country Mutual Insurance Company, issued the coverage to plaintiff.

The facts are not in dispute. On February 2, 1975, plaintiff's daughter was killed when the uninsured motor vehicle in which she was a passenger left the roadway and crashed. As a member of plaintiff's household, decedent was covered by the uninsured motorist provisions of two automobile policies issued to plaintiff by defendant. The first policy contained two uninsured motorist provisions covering two vehicles, and the second policy covered one vehicle.

By statute, every insurance policy issued for any motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in Illinois must provide coverage for bodily injury or death caused by an uninsured or hit-and-run vehicle. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 73, par. 755a(1).) The coverage must be at least in the amount set forth in the Financial Responsibility Law, that is, $10,000 for bodily injury or death of one person and $20,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 95 1/2, par. 7-203). In accordance with these provisions, plaintiff obtained uninsured motorist coverage for the minimum amount required on each of his three cars, paying semiannual premiums of $1.60, $1.70, and $1.80 on the three cars. According to an affidavit filed by plaintiff, he was not told that he would not receive greater coverage in exchange for his payment of three separate premiums.

Following the death of his daughter, plaintiff filed a claim for benefits under all three uninsured motorist provisions in the sum of $30,000. Defendant denied plaintiff's claim that the coverage should be stacked to provide a total recovery of $30,000 on the basis of a certain clause contained in each policy. The clause appeared under the heading "Other Automobile Insurance in the Company" which was printed in capital letters in boldface type. That clause provides:

"With respect to any occurrence, accident, death or loss to which this and any other automobile insurance policy issued to the Named Insured by the Company also applies, the total limit of the Company's liability under all such policies shall not exceed the highest applicable limit of liability or benefit amount under any one such policy."

Plaintiff then filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the circuit court of St. Clair County, requesting the court to declare that the uninsured motorist coverage should be stacked. Defendant filed an answer denying plaintiff's claim. The circuit court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and held that the coverage totaled $30,000. The appellate court reversed (69 Ill. App.3d 83) and found that, by the policy terms, plaintiff's coverage was limited to $10,000. We affirm.

In reaching our decision, the first question we must address is whether the "Other Automobile Insurance in the Company" clause is clear and unambiguous. If the clause is ambiguous, it must be construed in favor of the insured. (Squire v. Economy Fire & Casualty Co. (1977), 69 Ill.2d 167, 180; Glidden v. Farmers Automobile Insurance Association (1974), 57 Ill.2d 330, 336.) If it is unambiguous, there is no need for construction, and the clause may be applied as written, unless it contravenes public policy. (Putnam v. New Amsterdam Casualty Co. (1970), 48 Ill.2d 71, 84.) Although it is true that limitations on an insurer's liability must be construed liberally in favor of the policyholder (see Squire v. Economy Fire & Casualty Co. (1977), 69 Ill.2d 167, 179), the rule comes into play only where there is an ambiguity. In determining whether there is an ambiguity, the clause must be read in its factual context and not in isolation. Glidden v. Farmers Automobile Insurance Association (1974), 57 Ill.2d 330, 336.

An examination of the clause at issue reveals no ambiguity. The clause clearly states that "the total limit" of defendant's liability under all the policies "shall not exceed the highest applicable limit * * * under any one" policy. This language has clear meaning in the context here. Plaintiff owned three uninsured motorist coverages issued by defendant. By policy language clearly applicable to multiple coverages provided by defendant, the coverage could not be stacked.

The situation here contrasts with that in Glidden v. Farmers Automobile Insurance Association (1974), 57 Ill.2d 330, in which an "other insurance" clause provided for proration between policies. This court found that the apparent purpose of the clause was to distribute responsibility among multiple insurers. The clause had no meaningful purpose and was therefore ambiguous when applied to coverage issued by one insurer. In light of the ambiguity this court allowed stacking. Also distinguishable is Squire v. Economy Fire & Casualty Co. (1977), 69 Ill.2d 167, in which this court found a right to stack because the policy did not clearly express that no additional coverage was provided. Our recent case of Kaufmann v. Economy Fire & Casualty Co. (1979), 76 Ill.2d 11, in which we found that stacking was permissible, differs from this cause on numerous grounds, including the fact that the clause purportedly prohibiting stacking there was ambiguous, whereas the clause at issue here is not.

Plaintiff argues that we must examine the intent of the parties to the policy and apply the policy as intended. The intent of the defendant insurance company and the manifest intent of the plaintiff are clearly expressed in the unambiguous language of the antistacking clause. In such a situation, as we have already stated, there is no need to construe the policy language. Plaintiff points to the fact that he paid three separate premiums for the uninsured motorist coverage and argues therefore that he must have intended to receive three separate coverages. However, the existence of any such subjective intent of the plaintiff is rebutted by the clear and unambiguous policy language from which it can be readily seen and understood that coverage was limited. See Cheseroni v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (Del. Super. 1979), 402 A.2d 1215, 1217; Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Bridges (Miss. 1977), 350 So.2d 1379, 1381.

The next question we must address is whether it would contravene public policy as established in our uninsured motorist statute to apply the "Other Automobile Insurance in the Company" clause. This court has recognized that the purpose of the uninsured motorist statute is to provide coverage which would compensate the insured to at least the same extent as he would have been if he had been injured by a motorist who was insured in compliance with the Financial Responsibility Law. (Putnam v. New Amsterdam Casualty Co. (1970), 48 Ill.2d 71, 89; see also Glidden v. Farmers Automobile Insurance Association (1974), 57 Ill.2d 330, 338.) That purpose is not defeated here by the antistacking clause. In no instance will plaintiff receive less than $10,000 coverage, since under each uninsured motorist provision the coverage is for $10,000.

Nor is public policy contravened by the fact that plaintiff paid premiums for each of the uninsured motorist provisions. Plaintiff agreed to the unambiguous limitations on coverage. Furthermore, he can in fact recover under any one of the three coverages. Plaintiff concedes that it was reasonable to charge him something for the administrative work in writing the additional coverage and agrees that he has received some additional coverage for passengers who are not members of his household and would therefore not be covered by the original policy. There is no evidence of overreaching on the part of defendant, the premiums charged were not exorbitant, and, in short, no reason is advanced which would require invalidation of the limitation clause on public policy grounds. Public policy does not require invalidation of clearly written provisions simply to avoid disappointment to the insured. Putnam v. New Amersterdam Casualty Co. (1970), 48 Ill.2d 71, 86.

In sum, the clear and unambiguous "Other Automobile Insurance in the Company" clause defeats plaintiff's contention that he was entitled to stack the coverage in the three uninsured motorist provisions. For the reasons ...


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