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Ellis v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company

June 20, 2001


Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 95MR7 Honorable Luther H. Dearborn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

Plaintiff Beverly D. Ellis appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American Family). We affirm.

American Family issued a motor vehicle insurance policy to Ellis effective from December 12, 1991, to June 12, 1992. The policy contained an endorsement, the "Automobile Accidental Death and Specific Dismemberment Benefits Coverage Endorsement." On May 15, 1992, Ellis' son Shaun was killed in an automobile accident while driving Ellis' car. Ellis sought benefits under the endorsement but American Family denied coverage.

On January 17, 1995, Ellis filed a complaint for declaratory judgment; American Family filed an answer and a counterclaim for declaratory judgment. The parties next filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Each was denied. The case languished for two years. Ellis then filed a second motion for summary judgment; American Family filed a response and cross-motion for summary judgment. Ellis' motion was denied, American Family's was granted. From this ruling, Ellis appeals.

Three pertinent provisions of the policy are at issue. The first two provisions are found in the endorsement:

"Death Benefit: We will pay the maximum benefit shown in the declarations, if the insured person dies within 90 days of the accident.

Insured person or insured persons means you or any relative while occupying, or when struck by, a land motor vehicle or trailer."

The third provision is found in the base policy, in a section entitled

"Definitions Used Throughout the Policy":

"Relative means a person living in your household related to you by blood, marriage[,] or adoption. *** It excludes any person who, or whose spouse, owns a motor vehicle other than an off-road motor vehicle."

American Family offers two theories in support of the trial court's ruling: (1) Shaun owned his own car, thereby coming under an exception to the policy definition of "relative" and (2) Shaun was not "living in [Ellis'] household" at the time of his death.

The question whether an individual is a resident of, or living in, a household commonly arises in other automobile policy contexts. The standard automobile policy covers "relatives" as insureds, meaning persons living in the household and related to the insured by blood or marriage. See 625 ILCS 5/7-317(a), (b) (West 2000); 215 ILCS 5/143.13(a) (West 2000). A number of cases consider whether a person is a "relative" and accordingly covered as an insured under an automobile liability policy. See, e.g., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Taussig, 227 Ill. App. 3d 913, 916, 592 N.E.2d 332, 334-35 (1992) (child who dropped out of school and had his own apartment not a related person who lived with his parents); Kopier v. Harlow, 291 Ill. App. 3d 139, 142, 683 N.E.2d 536, 538 (1997) (liability coverage exclusion for bodily injury or property damage arising out of use of any vehicle owned by any "resident of the household"). Other cases have considered whether a person is a relative "resident of the household" and accordingly excluded from receiving benefits under a homeowner's or automobile liability policy. See, e.g., Country Mutual Insurance Co. v. Peoples Bank, 286 Ill. App. 3d 356, 359-60, 675 N.E.2d 1031, 1033-34 (1997) (foster child under one-year placement agreement a "resident of the household"). Different factors may apply in cases interpreting coverage clauses than in cases involving exclusion clauses. The endorsement here, providing accidental death benefits, appears to be somewhat unusual, even though it employs language previously interpreted in the cases. Why should a relative, traveling in an insured vehicle, be covered under the endorsement if he does not own a motor vehicle, but not be covered if he does?

The policy definition of "insured persons" includes the policyholder's relatives. The policy definition of "relative" specifically excludes individuals who own their own vehicles. American Family states that Shaun owned his own vehicle and therefore was not an insured person.

American Family mainly relies upon Ellis' response to a request for admission tendered pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 216 (134 Ill. 2d R. 216). ...

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