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McDonald v. Prudential Property and Casualty Co.

April 29, 1999

ROBERT MCDONALD AND ALBERTA MCDONALD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
PRUDENTIAL PROPERTY AND CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 97-L-408A Honorable Jerome F. Lopinot, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Rule 23 Order filed March 31, 1999; Motion to publish granted April 29, 1999

Defendant, Prudential Property and Casualty Company (Prudential), appeals from the trial court's December 2, 1997, entry of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, Robert McDonald and Alberta McDonald, who are husband and wife. Robert was injured in a one-car accident while riding as a passenger in a car driven by Joshua Chamness. Chamness was insured by a policy issued by Prudential with coverage limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Prudential offered Robert $99,999 for his injuries, and it offered Alberta $1 to settle her loss-of-consortium claim. Robert accepted the offer to him, but Alberta rejected the offer to her. When Prudential failed to pay either Robert or Alberta, they filed a complaint against Prudential on May 12, 1997, claiming that each of them was entitled to receive the full $100,000 policy limit.

The trial court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, finding that Alberta's claim for loss of consortium was separate and independent from her husband's claim for his physical injuries. At the same time, the trial court denied Prudential's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, we consider whether Prudential's policy of insurance permits Alberta to claim a separate $100,000 limit of liability for her loss-of-consortium claim or whether, as Prudential argues, the policy provides only for a single $100,000 limit of liability for both Robert and Alberta. For reasons we will more fully explain, we reverse.

STANDARD OF REVIEW AND GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Trial court orders granting summary judgment present questions of law for the court of review. Pagano v. Occidental Chemical Corp., 257 Ill. App. 3d 905, 909 (1994). The court of review conducts a de novo evaluation of the trial court record. Busch v. Graphite Color Corp., 169 Ill. 2d 325, 333 (1996). The principal questions on review are whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the trial court's interpretation of the law was correct. Pagano, 257 Ill. App. 3d at 909.

Where a policy of insurance is to be construed, the issues are determined by the language of the policy and the parties are bound to their agreement. General Casualty Co. of Illinois v. McCowan, 221 Ill. App. 3d 96, 97 (1991). Generally, insurance policies are subject to the same rules of construction that apply to other types of contracts. Morgan v. CUNA Mutual Insurance Society, 242 Ill. App. 3d 1027, 1028 (1993). The definitions contained in the policy are controlling. Filip v. North River Insurance Co., 201 Ill. App. 3d 351, 353 (1990). If the policy is clear and unambiguous, then construction aids are unnecessary and the policy must be applied as written. Morgan, 242 Ill. App. 3d at 1029.

"Words of a policy should be given their ordinary meaning and courts should not strain to find ambiguity so as to reach a desired result when no ambiguity in fact exists." Morgan, 242 Ill. App. 3d at 1029. A provision in an insurance policy is ambiguous if it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. Wilkin Insulation Co., 144 Ill. 2d 64, 74 (1991). All doubts and ambiguities must be resolved in favor of the insured. Wilkin Insulation Co., 144 Ill. 2d at 74.

TERMS OF THE POLICY

The policy issued to Joshua Chamness, under which both Robert and Alberta claim benefits, includes the following relevant provisions:

"BODILY INJURY Bodily injury means bodily injury, sickness, disease[,] or death suffered by a person." "AGREEMENTS BETWEEN YOU AND US In exchange for premium[s] paid, we agree to pay for losses as covered in this policy." "PART 1 LIABILITY--IF YOU INJURE OTHERS OR DAMAGE THEIR PROPERTY WITH A CAR ... OUR OBLIGATIONS TO YOU (PART 1) LIABILITY (BODILY INJURY COVERAGE/PROPERTY DAMAGE COVERAGE)

If you have these coverages (see the Declarations), we will pay up to our limit of liability for bodily injury to others and property damage that an insured is legally obligated to ...


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