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McKinney v. Allstate Insurance Co.

December 16, 1999

GEORJEANIA MCKINNEY, APPELLANT, V. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

Agenda 38-September 1999.

At issue in this appeal is whether a limitation of liability clause in an automobile insurance policy unambiguously limited all claims arising out of a person's death to a single per person limit. The circuit court of Cook County held that it did not and entered summary judgment for plaintiff, Georjeania McKinney. Finding the policy unambiguous, the appellate court reversed the summary judgment for plaintiff and entered summary judgment for defendant, Allstate Insurance Company. No. 1-98-0924 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Plaintiff appeals, and we now affirm the appellate court.

BACKGROUND

On January 2, 1996, Rashaud McKinney was driving a vehicle in which his father, Gregory McKinney, and sister, Ashley McKinney, were passengers. The car left the road, and Gregory McKinney died as a result of the accident. Rashaud and Ashley survived the accident, but Ashley was injured.

Gregory was insured under a policy with Allstate. Pursuant to the policy's resident relative exclusion, Rashaud was considered an uninsured motorist. The policy provides liability limits for uninsured- motorist coverage of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. The limits of liability clauses in the policy provide as follows:

"1. `each person' is the maximum that we will pay for damages arising out of bodily injury to one person in any one motor vehicle accident, including damages sustained by anyone else as a result of that bodily injury.

2. `each accident' is the maximum we will pay for damages arising out of bodily injury to two or more persons in any one motor vehicle accident. This limit is subject to the limit for `each person.' "

Georjeania McKinney, individually, as administratrix of Gregory's estate, and as mother and next friend of Ashley, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment. In the complaint, plaintiff sought a determination that the liability limits of the policy should be applied as follows: Gregory's estate had a Survival Act claim, subject to a $100,000 limit; Ashley had a claim for her own injuries, subject to a separate $100,000 limit; and Ashley and Georjeania each had separate claims pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act, subject to separate $100,000 limits. All of these claims would be subject to the aggregate $300,000 limit for the accident. Allstate answered the complaint, arguing that Ashley's claims for her own injuries were separate and distinct, but that all claims arising from the death of Gregory were subject to one $100,000 limit.

Plaintiff then filed a "motion to declare coverage" in which she asked the trial court to declare that Georjeania and Ashley could each seek up to $100,000 for their wrongful death claims and that Ashley could seek an additional $100,000 for her personal injuries. The aggregate $300,000 liability limit would apply to these claims. Allstate filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it had paid the $100,000 limit pursuant to the Survival Act claim and that its liability under the policy for claims arising out of Gregory's death had been extinguished. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion and denied defendant's, finding that the policy was ambiguous and that the aggregate $300,000 limit applied to the wrongful death claims of Georjeania and Ashley and the personal injury claim of Ashley. Allstate appealed, and the appellate court reversed. The appellate court held that the policy unambiguously limited all claims arising from Gregory's death to a single $100,000 limit.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff argues that both Georjeania and Ashley were insured persons under the policy and that the wrongful death claims are independent of the Survival Act claim. *fn1 According to plaintiff, the term "anyone else" in the "each person" limit of liability clause should be read as "anyone else other than an insured person." Therefore, she contends that the policy can be reasonably interpreted to mean,

"Allstate will pay compensatory damages to which each of you, as its insureds, is entitled `because of' the death of Gregory, the policyholder. However, Allstate will only pay up to $100,000 to each of you as its limit of liability. Furthermore, no matter how many other people may be involved and also be entitled to damages, Allstate will not be liable for more than a total of $300,000 for each accident."

Plaintiff argues that the above interpretation is as reasonable as that advanced by Allstate, and that the policy is therefore ambiguous. Plaintiff further contends that she had a reasonable expectation of the above coverage.

Allstate argues that the policy is not ambiguous and provides in no uncertain terms that the $100,000 limit is the maximum that can be paid for all damages arising out of Gregory's death. Allstate further contends that plaintiff's interpretation would require the court to read ...


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