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Skidmore v. Throgmorton

June 29, 2001

GREG SKIDMORE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
SUSAN THROGMORTON, DEFENDANT, AND SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY, INTERVENING DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. No. 97-L-31 Honorable James M. Wexstten, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

NOT RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION

Intervenor Safeco Insurance Company (Safeco) appeals from the trial court's March 29, 2000, order granting Greg Skidmore's motion for the reconsideration of an earlier motion involving the stacking of motor vehicle liability insurance policies. We affirm.

Greg Skidmore and Susan Throgmorton were involved in a motor vehicle accident on May 30, 1995. The vehicle Throgmorton was operating at the time of the accident was owned by her father, William Spencer. The Spencer-owned vehicle involved in the accident was insured by Safeco, with a policy paid for by William Spencer. That Safeco liability policy also provided coverage for one additional Spencer-owned motor vehicle. Additionally, the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident, Throgmorton, also had Safeco motor vehicle insurance on two vehicles she owned, plus excess liability coverage. Each of the four motor vehicles had Safeco liability coverage of $100,000 per accident per person.

Skidmore filed suit for his bodily injuries and damages against Throgmorton. Before the trial, Safeco analyzed its own policies and made a determination that $200,000 in coverage was applicable to Skidmore's claim. The $100,000-per-accident-per-person limits of the Spencer policy, which was limited to the one vehicle by the application of that policy's antistacking clause, was added to $100,000 from the Throgmorton liability policy, which was also limited to one vehicle by application of the policy's antistacking clause. Prior to the beginning of the trial, Skidmore and Throgmorton entered into an agreement whereby Skidmore agreed to collect any judgment only against the available insurance proceeds, absolving Throgmorton from any personal liability for any amount over the available insurance.

Following the trial, the jury returned a $300,000 verdict in Skidmore's favor. Pursuant to the pretrial stipulation and in a proposed full satisfaction of the judgment, Safeco issued a check to Skidmore in the amount of $201,813.69.

Thereafter, Skidmore filed a motion with the trial court and sought to have the trial court determine the amount of liability coverage applicable to this particular motor vehicle accident. Specifically, Skidmore was asking the trial court to find that $400,000 in coverage was available. Skidmore argued that the antistacking clause of each applicable policy should be disregarded. Safeco sought and was granted leave to intervene in this case for the purpose of contesting Skidmore's motion. Safeco filed a motion for declaratory judgment, arguing that only $200,000 in liability coverage was available-$100,000 from each applicable policy. On November 29, 1999, the trial court entered its order concluding that only $200,000 in insurance coverage was available for this particular accident.

On December 20, 1999, Skidmore filed a motion for the reconsideration of the earlier order. On March 29, 2000, the trial court entered an order that reversed its previous order. The court found latent ambiguities in the insurance policy language and concluded that $400,000 in insurance coverage was available.

Safeco appeals. Safeco does not dispute the existence of liability coverage applicable to this case. Additionally, Safeco accepts the jury's verdict. Safeco appeals to challenge the stacking of coverages that the trial court found appropriate, and Safeco contends that the language of its policies is not ambiguous.

The construction of an insurance policy involves a question of law, and therefore, our review is de novo. American States Insurance Co. v. Koloms, 177 Ill. 2d 473, 480, 687 N.E.2d 72, 75 (1997).

In an argument specifically brought up for the first time at oral argument, Safeco notes that Skidmore is attempting to assert a perceived policy ambiguity about language over which both the insurer and the insureds agree. In other words, assuming that he can assert an insurance policy language ambiguity, Skidmore, the injured party, is in an outside position similar to that of a third-party beneficiary.

Before we even address whether the language at issue is ambiguous, we must decide whether Skidmore can assert these "ambiguities." Because that issue involves parties to the insurance contract, which involves policy construction, our review remains de novo.

Initially, Skidmore argues that Safeco waived any argument on this issue by failing to raise the issue in the trial court. See Allstate Insurance Co. v. Tucker, 178 Ill. App. 3d 809, 813, 533 N.E.2d 1004, 1007-08 (1989). However, the doctrine of waiver serves as a warning to the parties rather than a limitation on the appellate court's jurisdiction. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31 v. County of Cook, 145 Ill. 2d 475, 480, 584 N.E.2d 116, 118 (1991). We may relax the harsh mandates of the waiver doctrine if we feel that the particular issue would aid in maintaining a uniform body of precedent or if the interests of justice require the issue's consideration. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 145 Ill. 2d at 480, 584 N.E.2d at 118-19. Because the issue presented to us is unique, we will consider it.

As the injured party, Skidmore argues that he should be allowed to raise matters of insurance policy ambiguity where that language has ...


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