The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'mara Frossard
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County
Honorable Thomas Hett, Judge Presiding.
On April 30, 1992, a vehicle drove onto the sidewalk of a terminal at O'Hare International Airport (O'Hare) and struck a group of students and adults visiting the airport who had just exited from two school buses. Plaintiffs, several children and adults injured in this accident, brought this declaratory action seeking underinsured motorist coverage from an insurance policy issued by defendant, Country Mutual Insurance Company (Country Mutual). That policy provided underinsured motorists coverage to persons injured while "occupying" a school district vehicle. The policy stated that "occupying means in, upon, getting in, on, out or off." Following a bench trial, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs, finding that each plaintiff occupied the buses at the time of the accident by either "getting *** out or off" the buses. Defendant argues that the trial court: (1) erred in finding coverage under the insurance policy when the court also found that all the plaintiffs had vacated the buses before the accident; (2) erred in failing to require each plaintiff to prove that he or she should be entitled to coverage; and (3) erred in its factual findings. We affirm.
On April 30, 1992, two school buses left the Sycamore School District with between 60 and 80 third grade students, teachers, and chaperones on a field trip to O'Hare. The buses drove to an area between terminals one and two so that the students could tour the inside of the terminal. The buses parked on the street next to the terminals, activated their warning lights, and opened their doors. The students, parents, and teachers exited the buses. However, shortly after the last individual left the bus and while the students were in the process of lining up, a vehicle drove up on the sidewalk and struck several students, parents, and teachers.
Defendant issued an insurance policy to the Sycamore School District that covered vehicles used as part of school activities, which included the two school buses used for the field trip to O'Hare. This policy provided coverage to insured individuals, which it defined as follows:
2. Anyone else occupying a covered auto ***.
2. Occupying means in, upon, getting in, on, out, or off."
After it was determined that the vehicle that struck the plaintiffs was underinsured, plaintiffs filed claims for underinsured motorist coverage under defendant's policy. Plaintiffs claimed that they were occupying the school buses, a covered vehicle, at the time of the accident. Defendant denied coverage to each plaintiff and plaintiffs brought this lawsuit.
At trial, Joyce Mathey, a parent and plaintiff, testified that the accident occurred within 10 seconds of her and others exiting the bus. According to Mathey, at the time of the accident, students had not begun to line up on the sidewalk but were mingling in the area near the buses. Another parent and plaintiff, Sara Schwarzbaum, testified that within 30 seconds of her exiting the bus the accident occurred. She further noted that the students were crowded on the sidewalk when she exited the bus and had not yet lined up. A student, Daniel Kozlowski, testified that when he left the bus a crowd of 50 to 60 students were on the sidewalk. He believed that the accident occurred about two to three minutes after he left the bus.
Other witnesses testified to a longer period of time between the students' exit from the buses and the accident. Leona Calhoun, a tour guide assigned to the front of the bus, testified that she exited the bus first and that the accident occurred about 15 minutes after she exited. She also recalled that as soon as the students exited the bus, they formed groups on the sidewalk. She testified that when the accident occurred, the doors to the buses were open and she pushed students toward and back on the bus. Larry Steczo, a parent, testified that he was the last person to leave the second bus except for the bus driver. When he left the bus, most of the students were in line next to a railing; however, he remembered five or six students and parents behind him. About a minute after he left the bus, the line took one or two steps toward terminal two before they realized that they were going the wrong way. According to Steczo, he started to back up when the underinsured vehicle struck him and knocked him unconscious.
Roxeanne Horton, a teacher, testified that the students lined up after they left the bus. As the students lined up, she was counting them. She testified at trial that the accident occurred about 10 minutes after students started to exit the bus; at her deposition, she testified that the time between the students lining up and the accident was about 3 minutes. Horton admitted that she could not remember the exact time frame. She also testified that students in line had moved toward terminal two right before the accident. She believed that she was 6 to 10 feet from the buses when the car came on the sidewalk. Rochelle Quode, another teacher, testified that it was about 5 minutes from the time that the last student exited the bus until the time of the accident. She ...