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Scottsdale Insurance Co. v. Robertson

March 31, 2003

SCOTTSDALE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DONALD ROBERTSON, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATES OF BENNIE ROBERTSON, JR. AND ESSIE BELL ROBERTSON, MAURICE K. ROBERTSON, BENNIE A. ROBERTSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 01 CH 16647 Honorable Julia M. Nowicki, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Smith

UNPUBLISHED

Defendants, Melvin and Collette Tolliver (the Tollivers), and Maurice K. Robertson, Bennie A. Robertson, III, the Estates of Bennie Robertson, Jr. and Essie Bell Robertson (collectively, the Robertson defendants), appeal from the trial court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of plaintiff, Scottsdale Insurance Company (Scottsdale) in a declaratory judgment action. The court found that a commercial general liability issued by Scottsdale to the Tollivers unambiguously establishes the limits for any one occurrence to be $1 million, regardless of the number of people who sustain injuries thereby. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

The Robertson defendants were tenants in an apartment building located at 2114 E. 69th Street in Chicago. The building was owned by a land trust, the beneficial interest of which was held by the Tollivers. Sometime between December 23, 2000, and January 3, 2001, Bennie Jr. and Essie Robertson died and Maurice Robertson and Bennie Robertson III were injured as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning in the apartment building.

The Robertson defendants subsequently filed suit against the Tollivers, alleging that their injuries (and deaths) were proximately caused by the Tolliver's acts and omissions pertaining to the maintenance and configuration of the property's heating system, or other negligent acts in maintaining the property.

Scottsdale acknowledged that the policy it issued to the Tollivers applies to the accident that gave rise to the Robertson defendants' claims, and offered to settle the lawsuit for $1 million, the amount Scottsdale claims is the policy's limit for any one occurrence. The Robertson defendants rejected that offer, and asked instead for $2 million, the amount they claim they are due under the policy, since its provisions with respect to bodily injury coverage are ambiguous. *fn1

The instant declaratory action ensued. In its complaint, Scottsdale sought a declaration from the trial court that the policy's provisions are unambiguous, and that its per occurrence limit is Scottsdale's maximum liability under the circumstances presented by the Robertson defendants' lawsuit. Cross motions for judgment on the pleadings were filed (735 ILCS 5/2-615(e) (West 1998)), and the trial court entered judgment in Scottsdale's favor.

ANALYSIS

The Robertson defendants argue that because the policy is, at the very least, ambiguous as to whether the occurrence limits apply, in aggregate, to all bodily injuries suffered by all individuals as a result of the accident, this court should reverse the decision of the trial court which found in Scottsdale's favor.

We note first that the entry of judgment on the pleadings is reviewed de novo. M.A.K. v. Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, 198 Ill. 2d 249, 255, 764 N.E.2d 1 (2001).

Contracts of insurance are subject to the same rules of construction as are applicable to other types of contracts. When construing an insurance contract, the primary objective is to give effect to the intent of the parties as expressed by the terms of the agreement. De Los Reyes v. Travelers Insurance Co., 135 Ill. 2d 353, 358, 553 N.E.2d 301 (1990). If the language is ambiguous, or is susceptible of at least two reasonable interpretations, it is to be construed in favor of the insured and against the insurer, as the drafter of the document; however, if the language of the policy is clear and unambiguous, it will be applied as written. United States Fire Insurance Co. v. Schnackenberg, 88 Ill. 2d 1, 5, 429 N.E.2d 1203 (1981); United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. Wilkin Insulation Co., 144 Ill. 2d 64, 73 (578 N.E.2d 926 (1991). Courts will not strain to find an ambiguity in an insurance policy where none exists. McKinney v. Allstate Insurance Co., 188 Ill. 2d 493, 497, 722 N.E.2d 1125 (1999). Finally, the construction of an insurance policy is a question of law subject to de novo review. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Villicana, 181 Ill. 2d 436, 441, 692 N.E.2d 1196 (1998).

Relevant portions of the declarations page in the policy under examination provide that the aggregate limits of liability for products/completed operations is $1 million, and that the general aggregate (other than products/completed operations) is $2 million. Beneath this language appears "Coverage A," entitled bodily injury and property damage liability. This section provides that the limit for any one occurrence, subject to the products/completed operations and general aggregate limits of liability, is $1 million.

The policy itself provides:

SECTION I -- COVERAGES

COVERAGE A BODILY INJURY AND PROPERTY ...


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