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Pekin Insurance Co. v. Estate of Robin M. Goben

March 09, 1999

PEKIN INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ESTATE OF ROBIN M. GOBEN, DECEASED, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Saline County. No. 97-MR-36 Honorable Bruce D. Stewart, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag

The plaintiff, Pekin Insurance Company (Pekin), filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the defendant, the estate of Robin M. Goben, deceased, (Estate), seeking a declaration that Robin did not qualify as an insured under the automobile liability policy issued to the partnership of Gary Whitlock and Frank Goben, doing business as Freedom Heating & Air Conditioning Company (the Company). The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Estate and against Pekin, finding that the Pekin policy provided underinsured-motorist coverage to the Estate and that such coverage could be stacked for a total of $1,000,000 in available coverage based on the presence of two vehicles on the Pekin policy. Pekin filed a timely notice of appeal.

The relevant facts are as follows. Teresa and Frank Goben are the natural parents of Robin Goben. Robin lived with his parents at 345 Wasson Road in Eldorado, Illinois, on March 5, 1997. On that same date, Robin was a passenger in a 1996 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro driven by Craig Goolsby and owned by Cynthia Heil. Goolsby accelerated the vehicle to an excessive rate of speed and, while traveling south on Crossroads School Road approximately one-half mile north of Borlin Road in Saline County, Illinois, lost control of the vehicle, which caused the vehicle to leave the roadway, become airborne on three separate occasions, and strike a utility pole and a large tree before finally coming to rest upside down. As a result of the accident, Robin was ejected from the vehicle and was killed.

Granite State Insurance Company provided liability insurance coverage to the 1996 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro driven by Goolsby and owned by Heil with bodily injury liability insurance limits of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence. Granite State Insurance Company has paid to the Estate the $20,000-per-person bodily injury liability limits.

On the date of the accident, plaintiff was the insurer for the following:

"FREEDOM HEATING GARY WHITLOCK/FRANK GOBIN [sic] DBA RR #3 BOX 144 345 WASSON ROAD ELDORADO, IL 62930"

Two vehicles were listed on the declarations page of the Pekin insurance policy, both of which included underinsured-motorist coverage in the amount of $500,000 and, if aggregated together, $1,000,000, in underinsured-motorist coverage. According to the record, the effective dates for the policy were from December 29, 1996, to June 29, 1997.

Subsequent to the settlement of the claim with Granite State Insurance Company, the Estate made a demand upon Pekin for arbitration pursuant to the terms of the underinsured-motorist-coverage provisions of the Pekin policy issued to Frank Goben. Pekin denied that underinsured-motorist-coverage benefits were available to the Estate, and Pekin filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the Estate and sought a declaration that Robin did not qualify as an "insured" under the Pekin policy that was issued to the partnership of Gary Whitlock and Frank Goben, doing business as Freedom Heating and Air Conditioning Company. Pekin maintained that it owed no duty or obligation to provide underinsured-motorist-coverage benefits to the Estate in connection with the motor vehicle accident in which Robin was killed.

On January 8, 1998, the Estate filed an answer to the complaint for declaratory judgment and a counterclaim for declaratory judgment. The Estate sought a declaration to the contrary and subsequently amended its counterclaim to allege that based on the presence of multiple vehicles listed on the Pekin policy, the underinsured-motorist-coverage benefits available under the policy stacked to provide $1,000,000 in underinsured-motorist coverage (count I), that Pekin's denial of coverage violated the Illinois Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/155 (West 1996)) (count II), and that, alternatively, Pekin's conduct violated the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 1996)) (count III). On January 15, 1998, the Estate filed a motion for a summary judgment on its amended counterclaim. Pekin then moved to dismiss the Estate's amended counterclaim and also moved for summary judgment on its original complaint.

The trial court dismissed counts II and III and denied Pekin's motion to dismiss count I of the Estate's amended counterclaim. The trial court then entered summary judgment in favor of the Estate and against Pekin on March 27, 1998, finding that Robin qualified as an "insured" under the Pekin policy and that the underinsured-motorist- coverage benefits stacked to provide $1,000,000 in underinsured-motorist coverage. Pekin filed a timely notice of appeal.

As we previously stated, this appeal was taken from the trial court's grant of a summary judgment in favor of the Estate and against Pekin. In an appeal from the grant of a summary judgment, we conduct a de novo review. Crum & Forster Managers Corp. v. Resolution Trust Corp., 156 Ill. 2d 384, 390, 620 N.E.2d 1073, 1077 (1993). Although we recognize that summary judgment is a drastic means of disposing of litigation, it is an appropriate measure in cases where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Crum & Forster Managers Corp., 156 Ill. 2d at 390-91, 620 N.E.2d at 1077.

The construction of an insurance policy is a question of law (American States Insurance Co. v. Koloms, 177 Ill. 2d 473, 479, 687 N.E.2d 72, 75 (1997)) and is an appropriate subject for Disposition by way of a summary judgment. Crum & Forster Managers Corp., 156 Ill. 2d at 391, 620 N.E.2d at 1077. When construing the language of an insurance policy, the court's primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the intentions of the parties as expressed in their agreement. If the terms found within the policy are "clear and unambiguous", they must be given their plain and ordinary meaning. On the other hand, if the terms within the policy are reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning, they are considered ambiguous and will be construed strictly against the insurer, who drafted the policy. Provisions that limit or exclude coverage are interpreted liberally in favor of the insured and against the insurer. The court must construe the policy as a whole and consider the type of insurance purchased, the nature of the risks involved, and the overall purpose of the contract. Koloms, 177 Ill. 2d at 479, 687 N.E.2d at 75.

Pekin argues on appeal that the trial court erred in finding that the Pekin policy provided underinsured-motorist coverage to Robin since the Pekin policy was issued to the Company, a partnership, and the Company does not have family members. Hence, Pekin contends that these facts preclude any underinsured-motorist coverage to Robin, Frank Goben's son.

The relevant portions of the Illinois underinsured motorists coverage section of the aforementioned policy are as follows:

"A. COVERAGE

1.We will pay all sums the `insured' is legally entitled to recover as compensatory damages from the owner or driver of an `underinsured motor vehicle.' The damages must result from `bodily injury' sustained by the `insured' caused by an `accident.' The owner's or driver's liability for these damages must ...


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