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Isaacson v. Country Mutual Insurance Company

April 03, 2002

JOHN ISAACSON, SPECIAL ADM'R FOR THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL CRAWFORD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTRY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND COUNTRY COMPANIES INSURANCE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 13th Judicial Circuit, Bureau County, Illinois No. 00--MR--23 Honorable Scott Madson Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin

Released for publication April 11, 2002.

JOHN ISAACSON, SPECIAL ADM'R FOR THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL CRAWFORD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTRY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND COUNTRY COMPANIES INSURANCE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 13th Judicial Circuit, Bureau County, Illinois No. 00--MR--23 Honorable Scott Madson Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin

PUBLISHED

 This declaratory judgment action was brought by plaintiff John Isaacson, special administrator of the estate of Michael Crawford (estate), against defendants Country Mutual Insurance Company and Country Companies Insurance (collectively Country Mutual), alleging that they failed to comply with section 143a-2 of the Illinois Insurance Code (Insurance Code) (215 ILCS 5/143a-2 (West 2000)), which requires that an insurer provide a brief description of uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist (collectively UM) coverage before issuing an applicant a policy of insurance. The court granted Country Mutual's motion for summary judgment, and the estate appealed. We affirm and hold that the statutory requirements of section 143a-2 of the Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/143a-2 (West 2000)) are met when an insurer provides an applicant for insurance with adequate information to enable him to make an informed decision regarding UM coverage.

FACTS

In 1995, Ernest Bartoli met with Country Mutual's agent, Crane Schafer, to secure automobile insurance. Bartoli requested uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence (20/40) and rejected underinsured motorist coverage. Because Bartoli failed to sign the rejection section on the application, however, Country Mutual issued Bartoli's policy with UM coverages equal to his bodily injury liability coverage. When he received the policy with the higher UM coverage, Bartoli complained about the higher cost and again requested that the uninsured coverage be reduced to 20/40 and that there be no underinsured coverage. He then signed and submitted a form indicating that he had been offered coverage, that he understood he could purchase such coverage, and that he was rejecting the coverage. Country Mutual reduced the coverage accordingly by issuing an addendum to the policy.

One month later, Country Mutual notified the agent that the rejection had not been received and that it would have to raise Bartoli's UM coverage at the next policy renewal. Thereafter, Bartoli executed a more detailed form of the UM rejection which stated that he understood what UM coverage was, that the premiums and the opportunity to purchase such coverage had been explained to him, that coverage was offered to him, and that he was rejecting the higher coverage. Subsequently, Bartoli renewed his policy at six-month intervals. He also signed two additional rejections.

In June of 1998, Bartoli's 16-year-old daughter was added to the policy. One month later, she was involved in an automobile accident in which her two passengers, Michael Crawford and another person, were killed. Because the other driver carried minimum liability coverage, Crawford's estate filed a complaint against Country Mutual seeking a declaration that Bartoli's rejection did not comply with statutory requirements and that the policy needed to be reformed to include UM coverage at the same amount as the policy's bodily injury liability coverage. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

At a hearing, the transcript from Bartoli's deposition testimony was introduced into evidence. The testimony indicated that he and the agent had a number of discussions regarding UM coverage but that Bartoli could not remember if they discussed it at the time of the initial application or at the time of the renewals. After he received a bill itemizing the costs for the higher UM coverage, however, Bartoli recalled that he had discussed the coverage with the agent and decided not to carry it. Bartoli testified that he rejected the higher coverage in part based on principle. He explained that he objected to being required to carry insurance to cover those drivers who were not adequately insured. According to Bartoli, the decision to carry the lower limits was an informed one and he knew he could have elected to carry higher coverage.

The agent's deposition testimony was also introduced. It indicated that it was his custom and practice to initially offer UM coverage face-to-face, explain the coverage and its cost, and urge its purchase. On several occasions, the agent attempted to persuade Bartoli to carry higher UM coverage and informed him that Country Mutual encouraged the higher coverage. Bartoli adamantly rejected such coverage based on philosophical grounds. After ...


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