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Meier v. Aetna Life & Cas. St. Fire Ins.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County; the Hon. Melvin E. Dunn, Judge, presiding.


This appeal involves a suit filed by plaintiff, David A. Meier, in the circuit court of Kane County, seeking a judgment against Aetna Life and Casualty Standard Fire Insurance Company (Aetna) and General Associates Insurance Agency, Inc. (General Associates), based on a policy issued by defendant Aetna on March 23, 1982. Under that policy, plaintiff alleged that his auto was insured for the sum of $5,000 less a deductible of $100. In addition to the face value of the policy, the court found that the plaintiff was entitled to the following: (1) $5,898 in attorney fees for plaintiff to succeed on this claim; (2) $2,597.50 in attorney fees for plaintiff to defend his judgment after defendant filed a motion to reconsider; and (3) pursuant to section 155 of the Illinois Insurance Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 73, par. 767), the court assessed $1,250 against the defendant and awarded $407.40 in "other costs."

The plaintiff testified at trial that he purchased his 1962 Chevrolet in 1978 from a private party. The price of the vehicle was $1,000. He initially purchased insurance from a company other than Aetna, obtaining liability insurance but no coverage for damage to the vehicle.

The Chevrolet was painted the next spring for approximately $500. The original engine was replaced with another. Following the first repainting, plaintiff became dissatisfied with the body work and took the car to another body shop. The car was then repainted a shade of red matching the car's original color. Plaintiff testified that, in his opinion, the car was worth $5,000. He based his opinion partly upon his belief that it was a rare automobile and, additionally, upon the repairs he had undertaken to have done on the car.

Plaintiff testified that sometime after this repair work, he was contacted by his insurance agent from General Associates, with whom he already had homeowner's insurance. He stated that his agent offered him a better deal for auto coverage than he had at that time, so he decided to insure his car with General Associates and to terminate his insurance with his other carrier. When the agent from General Associates interested plaintiff with its auto plan, plaintiff told the agent he wanted to insure his vehicle for $5,000. To obtain such coverage, plaintiff understood he would pay increased premiums. This coverage was offered to plaintiff by General Associates' agent as "stated amount insurance." The agent related at trial that "stated amount insurance" is offered when the ordinary valuation method, the published "book value," is not available. Since such estimates were not available for an auto as old as plaintiff's 1962 Chevrolet, the agent offered the alternative coverage wherein the insurer will insure the actual value of the vehicle. General Associates required that an appraisal from a qualified appraiser be provided, along with two photographs of the car, to establish the value of the car.

The agent gave no instruction regarding where plaintiff was to obtain the appraisal, whereupon plaintiff contacted someone he knew, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership, who had experience in appraising automobiles. The appraisal was completed and submitted with two photos of the automobile. The insurance agent received these items, made no further inquiry as to the accuracy of the appraisal or photos, and forwarded them to the principal, Aetna.

Subsequently, in September 1982, plaintiff had an accident in this insured vehicle, striking a guard rail, damaging the passenger side of the car, and coming to rest in a ditch. He was later informed by the owner of the body shop that towed his car that the engine of plaintiff's car had ignited and burned while being towed.

Upon notice from General Associates of this accident, Aetna assigned a claim representative, Carter Janecek, to handle plaintiff's claim. Janecek's title was senior auto claim representative. He had been with Aetna for 2 1/2 years at the time of this accident. Janecek was responsible for determining the loss to the vehicle. He personally viewed the damaged automobile and determined it to be a total loss; when he looked at the car, he jotted down a few things about its options and what had been damaged. Janecek stated that it is the policy at Aetna, in arriving at the total value of the car, to feed certain information gained from inspecting the damaged car into a computer service called Certified Collateral. Certified Collateral then provides Aetna with an estimate of the value of the car. Janecek testified that he had no idea how Certified Collateral comes up with the final value figures.

Certified Collateral returned a figure of $2,000, which was then offered to plaintiff by Janecek. Plaintiff refused the offer, telling Janecek that the car was insured for $5,000.

After Janecek and Aetna became aware that plaintiff had retained counsel, an appraiser familiar with older model vehicles was hired by Aetna to assess the preaccident value of plaintiff's car. He examined the damaged vehicle and declared its preaccident worth to be $2,200.

On cross-examination Janecek testified that he had been trained as a claim adjuster by Aetna and that he was familiar with the procedures for handling insurance claims and settlements in Illinois, specifically, Rule 9.19 of the Illinois Department of Insurance. This rule is promulgated pursuant to statutory authority (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 73, par. 1013) and is designed to implement specific sections of the Illinois Insurance Code (hereinafter Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 73, pars. 766.5, 766.6). The pertinent portion of Rule 9.19, in relation to these facts, states that if the value of a car is not published in a recognized source, the insurance company must secure at least two written, retail-value dealer quotations and base settlement on them. If two dealer quotations are not obtainable, such deviation from the rule requirements must be specifically detailed and documented, including particular information about the condition of the automobile. Janecek testified that he did not comply with any of these procedures. He stated that it was his belief that the rule was not in effect at the time of the accident. An examination of the rule shows that it was, in fact, operative at the time of the accident.

• 1 We must initially address a procedural challenge by plaintiff to defendants' ability to maintain this appeal. This court has previously considered plaintiff's motion to dismiss the appeal, and we stand on our previous reasoning in denying that motion. Plaintiff urges another argument upon this court regarding the proper procedure under Supreme Court Rule 323 for filing the report of proceedings. (87 Ill.2d R. 323.) Again we find it unnecessary to reach the merits of this issue, for the principal report of proceedings was appropriately filed and provides this court with ample evidence upon which to assess the propriety of the determination of the trial court. The burden is on the appellant to provide the record. Any doubts which may arise from incompleteness of the record will be resolved against the appellant. (Foutch v. O'Bryant (1984), 99 Ill.2d 389; Evink v. Pekin Insurance Co. (1984), 122 Ill. App.3d 246, 251.) Therefore, the defendant's failure to adhere to Rule 323 can result in no detriment to the plaintiff.

• 2 Defendants raise two basic issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court properly found for plaintiff on a public policy basis and excluded evidence of the actual value of the vehicle and (2) whether the trial court erred in finding that defendants had acted in bad faith in delaying proper settlement of plaintiff's claim. For the reasons set forth herein, the decision of the trial court is affirmed.

We turn to consideration of defendant's contention that the trial court improperly relied upon sound public policy as a basis for denying defendants the opportunity to challenge plaintiff's assertion ...

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