APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon.
WILLIAM B. STARNES, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
In this action for construction of the terms of an automobile insurance policy, the trial court found that medical and funeral expenses incurred for plaintiff's decedent constituted "property damages" within the meaning of the policy and rendered a declaratory judgment therefor against defendant insurance company. Defendant appeals. We reverse.
The plaintiff is the administratrix of the estate of Jack Hladyshewski, who died several days after an automobile collision with co-defendant Richard Mousette. She brought suit against Mousette in the circuit court of St. Clair County for the wrongful death of the decedent, for the pain and suffering of the decedent between the accident and his death, and for hospital and burial expenses incurred because of the accident. Madison County Mutual, Mousette's insurer, did not contest liability to the extent of the $10,000 limit of the "bodily injury" clause of Mousette's policy, and counts I and II were removed as issues in the case. However, it denies liability under the "property damage" clause for an additional $5,000 worth of medical and funeral expenses for which the decedent's estate is liable.
The sole issue in this appeal is whether the insurer's liability for medical and funeral expenses resulting from the collision is limited to $10,000 by virtue of the "bodily injury" clause of the policy or whether the administratrix can recover an additional $5,000 under the "property damage" clause. The trial court rendered judgment therefor.
In that judgment the court stated:
"The Court finds that, as a practical matter, few, if any insureds read the lengthy and complex automobile policies that are worded, prepared, printed and disseminated by the insurer; furthermore, insureds frequently rely upon the counsel and advice of the representatives of the insurer. To argue that a specific provision or phrase of a lengthy printed policy incorporates the intention of the insured is far-fetched in the normal situation, but such an argument is obviously untenable where the question involved is sufficiently rare that no court in the land has passed on it. Moreover, in view of the unparalleled preoccupation of the Anglo-American judicature over a period of more than ten centuries with the concept of "property," it is strange indeed that an auto carrier would suggest "common useage" [sic] as a defense. The Court seriously doubts that this defendant (or any other company) would advocate the implementation of the "common useage" [sic] concept in interpreting insurance contracts generally.
Finally, this Court finds that the insurance industry is better able to distribute the losses resulting from the judicial interpretation (or expansion) of the word property to include burial and medical bills than to impose them on the estate of the victim. Obviously, if the insurers wish to avoid such risks they can make their policies more explicit."
We do not believe this case presents issues of reliance upon oral representations, of risk-shifting, or of unconscionability. Instead it involves a question of contract interpretation requiring an examination of the pertinent language in that contract.
Under the heading, "Bodily Injury Liability," the insurer agrees
"* * * to pay on behalf of the insured all sums which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as damages because of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death at any time resulting therefrom, sustained by any person, caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the automobile."
Further in the policy, the insurer limits its liability for bodily injury coverage as follows:
"The limit of bodily injury liability stated in the declarations as applicable to `each person' is the limit of the company's liability for all damages, including damages for care and loss of services, arising out of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death at any time resulting therefrom, sustained by one person as the result of any one accident."
As for property damage liability, the company states that it will
"* * * pay on behalf of the insured all sums which the insured shall become obligated to pay by reason of liability imposed on him by law for damages on account of injury to or destruction of property caused by accident and arising ...