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Farmers Automobile Insurance Association v. Hunt

October 06, 1998

THE FARMERS AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE ASSOCIATION AND PEKIN INSURANCE COMPANY, AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
JAY HUNT, JR., AND EDWARD R. SPARKS, INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A MID-ILLINOIS CONTRACTORS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Peoria County

No. 97--MR--123

Honorable Richard E. Grawey, Judge Presiding

The plaintiff, Farmers Automobile Insurance Association, filed suit for declaratory judgment in the circuit court of Peoria County (735 ILCS 5/2--701 (West 1994)), asking the court to declare that Farmers has no duty to defend or to indemnify the defendant, Edward Sparks. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court denied Farmers' motion and granted defendant Hunt's cross-motion. The principal question presented in this appeal is whether an insurance company has a duty to defend and to indemnify an insured who drives negligently while towing an uninsured trailer. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

On November 13, 1996, Jay Hunt filed a complaint in the circuit court of Peoria County alleging that Edward Sparks negligently operated a trailer unit causing severe injury to Hunt.

Sparks, who was driving a Ford pickup truck towing a Cronkite trailer, stopped for a traffic light at the corner of University and West Columbia Terrace in Peoria. At the intersection, he noticed a man on a bicycle next to his truck. The light changed and Sparks drove away. Hunt testified that he was also at the corner of University and West Columbia Terrace, and after the light changed, he rode his teal blue bike down Columbia Terrace. After the truck passed, Hunt felt a bang at the back of his bike, but he did not know what hit him.

Investigating police officer Greg Metz, found small chips of teal blue paint on the metal mud guard that surrounds the rear wheels of Sparks' Cronkite trailer. The load capacity of the Cronkite trailer is greater than 2,000 pounds.

On April 2, 1997, Farmers, Sparks' insurer, filed a declaratory judgment action asking the court to determine the rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to the Farmers' Auto Liability Policy.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the coverage issue. In granting the summary judgment for Hunt, the court found: (1) the Ford pickup truck was covered under the insurance policy; (2) the trailer was not a covered auto because the load capacity exceeded 2,000 pounds; (3) although the trailer was not a "covered auto", that fact does not extinguish coverage for the Ford pickup; and (4) there is no provision in the policy that excludes a covered auto if it is pulling a trailer that fails to meet the definition of a covered auto. This appeal followed.

II.

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (735 ILCS 5/2--1005(c)(West 1994)). In appeals from summary judgment rulings, the appellate court is to conduct a de novo review. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102, 607 N.E.2d 1204, 1209 (1992). At issue is whether the insurance company has a duty to defend and to indemnify Sparks in the underlying suit.

The duty to defend arises if the underlying complaint alleges facts within or potentially within the insured's policy coverage. Outboard Marine Corp., 154 Ill. 2d at 107-108, 607 N.E.2d at 1212. In determining whether an insurer has a duty to defend its insured, the court must look at the allegations in the underlying complaint and compare them with the relevant ...


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