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02/09/89 John Coley Et Al., v. State Farm Mutual

February 9, 1989





534 N.E.2d 220, 178 Ill. App. 3d 1077, 128 Ill. Dec. 200 1989.IL.167

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Thomas G. Ebel, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court. LUND and KNECHT, JJ., concur.


This case comes to us on appeal from a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court of Peoria County. The question presented is whether the deceased grandson of John Coley was a relative as that term is defined in an insurance policy. The definition of "relative" in the policy required that decedent "live with" the named insured, here John Coley. The trial court found the grandson did not "live with" his grandfather at the time of his death and was not covered by the underinsured motorist provision of the policy. We agree.

The deceased grandson, Robert Coley, was killed in a traffic accident in St. Clair County, Illinois, on May 3, 1985. Plaintiff John Coley had purchased insurance from the defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. John Coley's policy contained an underinsured motorist clause under which defendant was liable for bodily injury to John Coley's relatives caused by an underinsured motorist. The driver of the vehicle which struck the decedent was insured, and his insurance carrier paid to the limit of its liability. Defendant was potentially liable for the difference between its liability limit and the damages paid by the other insurance carrier.

The defendant's policy provided coverage for the named insured, his spouse, and their relatives. The term "relative" was defined as, "person related to you or your spouse by blood, marriage or adoption who lives with you. It includes your unmarried and unemancipated child at school." After Robert Coley's fatal accident, plaintiffs filed a claim with the defendant. On February 10, 1986, plaintiffs were informed the defendant had denied the claim because the decedent did not conform to the definition of "relative" in the policy. On April 18, 1986, Robert Coley's grandfather, John Coley, and father, Thomas Coley, filed a declaratory judgment action against the defendant.

The evidence adduced at trial showed the decedent had left his father's home and moved in with his grandfather two years prior to graduating from high school. He moved most of his clothing and personal possessions to his grandfather's house and from that time the grandfather provided him with food and clothing as well as a room.

After graduation from high school, the decedent enlisted in the Air Force for a four-year period. He received his basic training in Texas and afterwards was stationed at several locations throughout the United States and overseas. The Air Force furnished living quarters at each base where he was assigned. The decedent was financially self-supporting and was not dependent on his parents or grandparents. He was still serving in the Air Force at the time of his death.

The evidence showed the decedent had kept some of his belongings at his grandfather's house, had continued to use it as his address on official documents and to receive mail there. He returned to his grandfather's home during leaves to visit his family. However, at the time of his enlistment, the plaintiff John Coley altered his insurance policy by removing the decedent as a named insured, and his premiums were reduced as a result. When the decedent purchased a motorcycle he obtained his own insurance, but this had lapsed at the time of his death.

Plaintiffs argued defendant has waived its argument on appeal by its admissions that decedent was a relative of the named insured, John Coley. The record shows that in all proceedings in the circuit court defendant carefully distinguished between the word "relative" as it is commonly used and "relative" as that word is defined in the insurance contract. While freely admitting decedent was a "relative," i.e., a blood relation, it consistently denied the decedent was a "relative" as that word is defined in the contract. The plaintiffs' argument is not well-taken and waiver is not an issue here.

The single issue presented here is the meaning of the term "live with" in the policy. In applying the rules of interpretation to an insurance contract, the words of the policy should be given their plain and ordinary meaning and the court should not search for ambiguity where there is none. (United States Fire Insurance Co. v. Schnackenberg (1981), 88 Ill. 2d 1, 429 N.E.2d 1203.) Here, the contract defines a relative as one that "lives with" the named insured. To be covered by the policy, the decedent would have to be living with his grandfather at the time of his death. Questions of applicable coverage can be determined only as of the time of the accident creating potential liability. (Hawkeye Security Insurance Co. v. Sanchez (1984), 122 Ill. App. 3d 183, 460 N.E.2d 873.) At the time of his accident, the decedent was an airman in the Air Force stationed in southern Illinois. He lived on the air base. Plaintiffs have repeatedly stressed the deep emotional ties between the decedent and his grandparents, a room was kept for his use in his grandparents' home, he kept some of his personal possessions there, his frequent visits to the home, and his receipt of mail at his grandparents' address. All of this, however, begs the issue of what the term "lives with" means. The dictionary supplies two definitions of "live" which relate to this inquiry. The first is "to dwell, i.e., to remain for a time, to live as a resident" and second, to "cohabit, i.e., to live together." (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 699 (1986).) Under either of these definitions, the decedent did not live with his grandfather. He was not visiting, going to, or coming from his grandfather's house at the time of the accident.

"The construction to be given to insurance contracts, like other contracts, should be a natural and reasonable one. [Citation.] In order not to lead to unreasonable results, or to defeat the intention of the parties to a contract of insurance, the construction thereof must not be strained, arbitrary, irrational, unnatural, or forced, or strictly technical; rather, it must be fair, natural, reasonable, logical, and practical, having reference to the risk and the subject matter and the purposes of the ...

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