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12/16/87 Carol Fletcher, v. Palos Community

December 16, 1987





518 N.E.2d 363, 164 Ill. App. 3d 921, 115 Ill. Dec. 838 1987.IL.1854

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Carl McCormick, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court. McNAMARA, P.J., and WHITE, J., concur.


Plaintiff-appellant, Carol Fletcher, appeals from the trial court's granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendant, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Plaintiff filed suit against Sun Life and other defendants, asserting that, as beneficiary of her deceased husband's life insurance policy, she was entitled to proceeds provided for under the policy provisions. The subject insurance policy was issued by defendant, Sun Life, to the Palos school district for the benefit of the school district's employees. Plaintiff's husband, Verne P. Fletcher, was an employee of the Palos school district and was insured under the policy. The policy provided extended death benefits for totally disabled employees after termination of the insurance. According to the terms of the policy, termination of insurance occurred upon termination of employment of the insured. Verne Fletcher became disabled and his employment terminated on September 15, 1978. Verne Fletcher died in December 1978.

Plaintiff filed her original action on September 15, 1978, naming Palos Community Consolidated School District No. 118 and officers of the school district, as well as Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, as defendants. Sun Life was not a party to the original action. In her initial complaint, plaintiff claimed entitlement to benefits of a life insurance policy issued by Mutual of Omaha by virtue of her husband's employment. The school district filed answers to plaintiff's written interrogatories on December 31, 1980. The school district's answers identified Verne Fletcher's coverage under the Sun Life policy and had attached a copy of the policy.

On February 24, 1981, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, naming Sun Life as an additional defendant. On July 24, 1981, plaintiff filed her second amended complaint. Sun Life was served with the second amended complaint on May 21, 1982. On August 25, 1983, plaintiff sent a letter to Sun Life, providing medical records as proof of Verne Fletcher's disability from September 15, 1978, to his death. By settlement and agreement, the co-defendant school district and its officers were dismissed from the action on March 6, 1984. On July 30, 1986, plaintiff filed her third amended complaint, naming Sun Life as the sole defendant. The trial court granted Sun Life's motion for summary judgment on November 10, 1987.

The policy's extended death benefit provision is included under the employee life insurance benefit section of the policy. The pertinent language of the extended death benefit provision follows:

"Benefit. If Sun Life receives the required notice and proof that an employee's life insurance terminated while he was totally disabled and that his total disability began before his 60th birthday and continued without interruption until his death, Sun Life will pay a death benefit equal to the amount of life insurance for which the employee was insured immediately before his insurance termination, subject to the same reductions or termination at specified ages as would have been applicable to his life insurance if it had not terminated.

Written notice of claim must be given to Sun Life at its Head Office or to one of its authorized agents while the Employee Life Insurance Benefit Provision of the policy is in full force and effect for the class or subdivision of employees to which the employee belonged immediately before he became disabled.

Proof that the employee became totally disabled while insured under this Provision and before his 60th birthday must be furnished to the Head Office of Sun Life not later than one year [emphasis added] after termination of his insurance. Sun Life may require periodic proof of the continuance of total disability at any time but not more often than once a year."

On appeal plaintiff asserts that the trial court improperly granted defendant's motion for summary judgment in that it based its decision on plaintiff's failure to comply with the one-year proof of disability provision of the policy. Plaintiff contends that she did not become aware of the existence of the policy until December 1980, when the school district attached a copy of the policy to its answers to plaintiff's written interrogatories. Plaintiff asserts that her lack of knowledge excused her failure to provide proof within one year of the termination of insurance, even if the proof provision is considered a condition precedent to coverage under the policy. Plaintiff also contends that her failure to provide proof within the one-year period was not ...

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