Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 02-MR-336 Honorable Ralph J. Mendelsohn, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman
The plaintiff, Insura Property and Casualty Company (Insura), appeals from an order of the Madison County trial court ordering it to provide underinsured-vehicle coverage to an insured who was injured while riding as a passenger on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) designed primarily for off-road use. On appeal, Insura contends that the trial court erred in finding that its policy provision excluding coverage for off-road vehicles was unenforceable under the Illinois Insurance Code provision mandating underinsured-motorist coverage (215 ILCS 5/143a-2(4) (West 2000)). We reverse.
On April 21, 2000, the defendant, Christina Steele, was injured when the ATV on which she was a passenger was involved in an accident. At the time, Steele was a named insured on an automobile insurance policy issued to her parents, Bruce and Judy Steele, by Insura. The policy provided, in relevant part:
"A. We will pay compensatory damages which an 'insured' is legally
entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an
'underinsured motor vehicle' because of 'bodily injury':
C. 'Underinsured motor vehicle' means a land motor vehicle or
trailer of any type to which a bodily injury liability bond or
policy applies at the time of the accident, but its limit for
bodily injury liability is less than the limit of liability
for this coverage.
However, 'underinsured motor vehicle' does not include any
vehicle or equipment:
5. Designed mainly for use off public roads while not upon
There is no dispute that the ATV on which Steele was riding was designed primarily for off-road use and that it was, in fact, being used off public roads when the accident occurred.
On January 31, 2001, Steele filed a lawsuit against the driver of the ATV, Deanna Townzen. On April 12, 2002, Steele's attorney sent a letter to Insura informing it that Steele had settled with Townzen's insurer for her policy limits of $20,000 and demanding the remainder of Steele's damages under the underinsured-vehicle coverage.
On June 21, 2002, Insura filed the instant declaratory judgment petition seeking a determination that, by virtue of the above-quoted coverage exclusion, it did not have an obligation to provide underinsured-vehicle coverage to Steele. Steele argued to the trial court, as she does on appeal, that the exclusion in Insura's policy is unenforceable under the Illinois Insurance Code (Insurance Code) (215 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 2000)). On July 15, 2002, Insura filed a motion for a judgment on the pleadings. On October 18, 2002, the trial court denied Insura's motion, entered a judgment in Steele's favor, and ordered Insura to honor her claim. This appeal followed.
The facts are not in dispute, and the parties agree that the policy is unambiguous. The only question before us is whether section 143a-2(4) of the Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/143a-2(4) (West 2000)), which mandates underinsured-vehicle coverage, renders the provision unenforceable. See 215 ILCS 5/442 (West 2000) (provisions of insurance policies purporting to exclude coverage mandated by the Insurance Code are unenforceable). Because our determination centers on a question of statutory interpretation, our review is de novo. Land v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 202 Ill. 2d 414, 421, 781 N.E.2d 249, 254 (2002).
Our primary goal in statutory construction is to effectuate the intent of the legislature. The best evidence of legislative intent may be found in the words of the statute itself. Land, 202 Ill. 2d at 421, 781 N.E.2d at 254. Where a statute is unambiguous, its words must be given their plain and ordinary meaning without resort to other tools of statutory construction. Land, 202 Ill. 2d at 421-22, 781 N.E.2d at 254.
The underinsured-motorist statute here at issue provides, in pertinent part:
"For the purpose of this Code[,] the term 'underinsured motor
vehicle' means a motor vehicle whose ownership, maintenance[,] or
use has resulted in bodily injury or death of the insured, as
defined in the policy, and for which the sum of the limits of
liability *** is less than the limits for underinsured coverage
provided the insured as defined in the policy at the time of the
*** [N]o policy insuring against loss resulting from liability
imposed by law for bodily injury or death suffered by any person
arising out of the ownership, maintenance[,] or use of a motor
vehicle shall be renewed or delivered or issued for delivery in
this State with respect to any motor vehicle designed for use on
public highways and required to be registered in this State unless
underinsured motorist coverage is included in such policy ***."
(Emphasis added.) 215 ILCS 5/143a-2(4) (West 2000).
We think it clear from both the plain language of the statute and the public policy behind it that it is meant only to require insurance for underinsured vehicles designed for and used on public roads. Steele cites Roberts v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 231 Ill. App. 3d 713
, 596 N.E.2d 185
(1992), in support of her contention to the contrary. There, an insurance policy contained an uninsured-motorist provision with an exclusion for motor vehicles designed primarily for off-road use. The exclusion did not apply, however, if such off-road vehicles were being used on public roads. Roberts, 231 Ill. App. 3d at 715, 596 N.E.2d at 185. The insureds' minor son was injured on an ATV. Roberts, 231 Ill. App. 3d at 715, 596 N.E.2d at 186. The statutory uninsured-motorist provision in effect at that time provided that no automobile insurance policy " 'shall be renewed or delivered or issued for delivery in this State *** unless coverage is provided *** for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles.' " Roberts, 231 Ill. App. 3d at 716, 596 N.E.2d at 186 (quoting Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 73, par. 755a(1)).
The court noted that the Insurance Code did not contain a definition of the term "motor vehicle" and that, therefore, the definition of that term found in the Illinois Vehicle Code (Vehicle Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 95½, par. 1-146 (now 625 ILCS 5/1-146 (West 2000))) was incorporated by reference into the Insurance Code. Roberts, 231 Ill. App. 3d at 716-17, 596 N.E.2d at 186 (citing Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Holada, 127 Ill. App. 2d 472, 477, 262 N.E.2d 359, 362 (1970)). The court found that the broad definition of "motor vehicle" contained in the Vehicle Code clearly included ATVs. Roberts, 231 Ill. App. 3d at 717, 596 N.E.2d at 186-87. Given the absence of any ...