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Sims v. Allstate Insurance Co.

May 31, 2006

MICHAEL SIMS AND TIFFANY SIMS, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-L-393A Honorable Lloyd A. Cueto, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

The plaintiffs, Michael and Tiffany Sims, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, filed a class action for a breach of contract against the defendant, Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate). The circuit court certified the class, determined that Allstate's insurance policy was ambiguous, and submitted the case to a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Allstate.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the circuit court erred in allowing the jury to construe the insurance policy; that the circuit court abused its discretion in allowing Allstate to present evidence regarding its unilateral subjective intent; that the circuit court erred in instructing the jury regarding ambiguity, the burden of proof, and the principle of contra proferentem; that, as a matter of law, the insurance policy's limit-of-liability provision was ambiguous and therefore covered the plaintiffs' claims for a loss of value; and that Allstate improperly attacked the ethics and integrity of the plaintiffs' counsel. We affirm on other grounds.

FACTS

The plaintiffs' automobiles were damaged while insured by Allstate. Allstate paid the cost to repair each vehicle but did not compensate the plaintiffs for its diminished value (a repaired vehicle's loss in market value resulting from the fact that it suffered property damage). The plaintiffs initiated this class action, alleging that by failing to compensate them for their damaged but repaired vehicle's diminished value, Allstate breached its contract.

Allstate's collision and comprehensive coverages for an insured's automobile are governed by section six of its insurance policy. Section six is entitled "Protection Against Loss To The Auto," is substantially the same in each class state, and states as follows:

"COVERAGE DD

Auto Collision Insurance

ALLSTATE will pay for direct and accidental loss to YOUR insured AUTO *** (including insured loss to an attached trailer) from a collision with another object or by upset of that AUTO or trailer. ***

COVERAGE HH

Auto Comprehensive Insurance

ALLSTATE will pay for direct and accidental loss to YOUR insured AUTO *** not caused by collision. ***

Payment Of Loss By Allstate

ALLSTATE may pay for the loss in money, or may repair or replace the damaged ...


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