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10/16/97 JOHN W. LOFTIS v. VESTA COMPANIES

October 16, 1997

JOHN W. LOFTIS, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VESTA COMPANIES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 13th Judicial Circuit. La Salle County, Illinois. No. 94--CH--7. Hon. Robert L. Carter, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication November 24, 1997.

Present - Honorable Kent Slater, Justice, Honorable Thomas J. Homer, Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice. Justice Homer delivered the opinion of the court. Breslin and Slater, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas

The Honorable Justice HOMER delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, John W. Loftis, Jr., filed an action against the defendant insurance company which denied coverage for damages caused when his tractor-trailer drove over a pothole. We must determine whether driving over a pothole constitutes a "collision with another object" within the contemplation of the policy of insurance. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant. We reverse and enter summary judgment for the plaintiff.

FACTS

The plaintiff purchased an insurance policy from the defendant. The policy covered damages to the plaintiff's vehicle caused by a "collision with another object." The plaintiff was driving on Interstate 80 when his tractor-trailer traveled over a pothole in the road.

The main beam of the trailer was sheared off and the chain securing a roll of steel broke, spilling the contents onto the roadway and adjacent shoulder. The plaintiff sustained damages in the amount of $5,534.00.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant and the plaintiff appeals.

ANALYSIS

The standard of review of a trial court's decision on a motion for summary judgment is de novo. Andrews v. Cramer, 256 Ill. App. 3d 766, 769, 629 N.E.2d 133, 135, 195 Ill. Dec. 825 (1993). In addition, the construction of a policy of insurance is a question of law and this court can interpret a policy independently of the trial court's judgment. Dairyland Insurance Co. v. Linak, 208 Ill. App. 3d 892, 567 N.E.2d 638, 153 Ill. Dec. 680 (1991). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this court is limited to the record in determining whether any genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Bryant v. Glen Oaks Medical Center, 272 Ill. App. 3d 640, 649, 650 N.E.2d 622, 629, 208 Ill. Dec. 928 (1995).

The plaintiff asserts that the phrase "collision with another object" is ambiguous and must be construed in his favor. He argues that striking the far side of a pothole is a collision with another object, and that damage caused by such collision should be covered by his insurance policy. The defendant contends that the phrase is unambiguous and must therefore be enforced as its plain meaning dictates. Even if the phrase is ambiguous, the defendant argues that the plaintiff's trailer passing over a pothole cannot be reasonably construed as a "collision with another object." The defendant suggests that the trailer did not collide with an "object," but was "jostled" by an uneven portion of the road. Therefore, the defendant maintains that its policy does not provide coverage.

Where the language of an insurance policy is clear and unambiguous, it must be enforced as the plain meaning dictates. United States Fire Insurance Co. v. Schnackenberg, 88 Ill. 2d 1, 4-5, 429 N.E.2d 1203, 1205, 57 Ill. Dec. 840 (1981). As with the construction of a contract generally, whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law for the court. Cowens v. Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund, 249 Ill. App. 3d 214, 618 N.E.2d 873, 188 Ill. Dec. 303 (1993). An insurance policy contains an ambiguity if the challenged language is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. Bruder v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 156 Ill. 2d 179, 193, 620 N.E.2d 355, 362, 189 Ill. Dec. 387 (1993). An insurance policy that is ambiguous or susceptible of at least two reasonable interpretations should be construed in favor of the insured. Gibbs v. Madison Mutual Insurance Co., 242 Ill. App. 3d 147, 610 N.E.2d 143, 182 Ill. Dec. 719 (1993). A court should liberally construe an insurance policy in favor of coverage. Bellmer v. Charter Security Life Insurance Co., 140 Ill. App. 3d 752, 755, 488 N.E.2d 1338, 1340, 94 Ill. Dec. 945 (1986).

We find the phrase "collision with another object" contained in the insurance policy at issue in the instant case ambiguous as reflected by the two reasonable interpretations advocated by the parties. We believe ...


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