BITUMINOUS CASUALTY CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant,
GLEN R. ILES, CANDACE E. ILES, RONALD J. ALDREDGE II, as Administrator of the Estate of Ronald J. Aldredge, Deceased, and KEVIN L. ALDREDGE, Defendants and Counterplaintiffs-Appellees (Dutch Creek Company, French Creek Company, Eldorado, Inc., Tri-State Supply, Inc., Bulldog Well Service, Inc., Mason Well Servicing, Inc., V. Louis Fieber, The Estate of V. Louis Fieber, Lisa K. Fieber, Lisa K. Fieber as Executor of the Estate of Samuel L. Fieber, Lucky Dutch Resources, Inc., Hillside Resources, Inc., Lakeview Farms, Inc., Fieber Oil, Inc., Fieber Petro, Inc., Illinois First Mortgage, Inc., City Development, Inc., Lucky Strike Drilling, Inc., Royalty Resources, Inc., Lee Land Incorporated, Marilyn J. Fieber, Marilyn J. Fieber Lifetime Trust, Haggard Well Services, Inc., Haggard Excavation, LLC, Bradley C. Cunningham, Scott Funkhouser, Barry Haggard Tank Truck Service, The City of Collinsville, Illinois, The City of Carmi, Illinois, Auto Owners Insurance Corporation, Liberty Mutual Insurance Corporation, and The Department of Natural Resources, an Illinois State Agency, Defendants).
Appeal from the Circuit Court of White County. No. 11-MR-15 Honorable Thomas J. Foster, Judge, presiding.
Attorneys for Appellant: Julie A. Webb, Paul R. Lynch, Craig & Craig, John E. Rodewald, John A. Husmann, Bates, Carey, Nicolaides, LLP,
Attorneys for Appellees: Larry N. Sloss, Jr., Eric A. St. Ledger, Gosnell, Borden, Enloe, Sloss & McCullough, Ltd., (for Glen and Candace Iles); Ted L. Perryman, Roberts, Perryman, P.C., (NO BRIEF FILED–for City Development, Inc., Dutch Creek, Co., Eldorado, Inc., V. Louis Fieber, Fieber Oil Inc., Fieber Petro, Inc., French Creek Co., Hillside Resources, Inc., Illinois First Mortgage, Inc., Lakeview Farms, Inc., Lucky Dutch Resources, Inc., Lucky Strike Drilling, Inc., Royalty Resources, Inc.); Jason B. McGary, Strong Law Offices, (for Scott Funkhouser); Kara L. Jones, John C. Ryan, Feirich, Mager, Green, Ryan, (for Ronald J. Aldredge II, as Administrator of the Estate of Ronald J. Aldredge, Deceased, and Kevin L. Aldredge); Jon E. Rosenstengel, Bonifield & Rosenstengel, P.C., (for Bradley C. Cunningham); John Schmidt, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Civil Appeals Division, (NO BRIEF FILED–for The Dept. of Natural Resources)
Amicus Curiae Brief: Michael M. Marick, Rebecca R. Haller, Meckler, Bulger, Tilson, Marick & Pearson, LLP, (for Property Casualty Insurers Ass'n of America)
Presiding Justice Spomer and Justice Chapman concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 This insurance dispute arose after an explosion at an oil and gas well. The dispute centers around the interpretation of two commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies and whether the policies are ambiguous with respect to the limits of the insurance company's liability under the policies for all bodily injury suffered by oil well workers as a result of the explosion. The circuit court held that the language of the policies' limits was ambiguous, construed the policies against the insurance company, and held that the insurance company's limit of liability was the "General Aggregate Limit" (General Aggregate Limit) of each policy instead of the "Each Occurrence Limit" (Each Occurrence Limit). The insurance company appeals the circuit court's judgment. For the following reasons, we reverse, holding that the limits of coverage contained within the CGL policies are not ambiguous. The unambiguous language of the policies provides that the Each Occurrence Limit for each policy controls the insurance company's limit of liability for all bodily injury caused by the explosion.
¶ 2 BACKGROUND
¶ 3 The oil well explosion occurred on October 29, 2008, at an oil and gas well (David Stanley #1 Well), located in White County, Illinois. Severe injuries and deaths occurred to oil well workers as a result of the explosion. The injured workers and the estates of the deceased workers (collectively referred to as oil well workers or workers) filed lawsuits in the circuit court of White County against various individuals, entities, or their agents, alleging that their negligence caused the explosion and the resulting injuries and deaths. The entities alleged to be responsible for the workers' injuries and deaths included Dutch Creek Company, French Creek Company, Eldorado, Inc., Tri-State Supply, Inc., Bulldog Well Service, Inc., and Mason Well Servicing, Inc.
¶ 4 Prior to the explosion, the plaintiff in the present case, Bituminous Casualty Corporation (Bituminous Casualty), had issued a CGL policy (Dutch Creek policy) to Dutch Creek Company, French Creek Company, Eldorado, Inc., and Tri-State Supply, Inc., that covered their liability for "bodily injury" caused by an "occurrence." The Dutch Creek policy's declaration page includes the following "Limits of Insurance": an Each Occurrence Limit of $1 million and a General Aggregate Limit of $2 million.
¶ 5 Bituminous Casualty had also issued a CGL policy (Bulldog Well policy) to Bulldog Well Service, Inc., and Mason Well Servicing, Inc., with language identical to the Dutch Creek policy. The declarations page for the Bulldog Well policy includes limits of insurance in the amount of $500, 000 for the Each Occurrence Limit and $1 million for the General Aggregate Limit.
¶ 6 On August 25, 2011, Bituminous Casualty filed a complaint for interpleader pursuant to section 2-409 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-409 (West 2010)). The circuit court's judgment in this interpleader action is the subject matter of the present appeal. Bituminous Casualty's interpleader action sought an order from the circuit court to deposit the total Each Occurrence Limit for each policy with the court so that the injured oil well workers could assert claims against the deposited funds and establish among themselves their respective rights and claims to any of the funds. Bituminous Casualty tendered $1 million for the Dutch Creek policy Each Occurrence Limit and $500, 000 for the Bulldog Well policy Each Occurrence Limit. The oil well workers were named as defendants in Bituminous Casualty's interpleader action.
¶ 7 Two of the defendants in the interpleader action, Kevin Aldredge and the administrator of the estate of Ronald Aldredge (deceased), filed a counterclaim against Bituminous Casualty requesting the circuit court to enter an order declaring that the policy limit that is available to compensate the oil well workers under the Dutch Creek policy is the General Aggregate Limit in the amount of $2 million, not the $1 million provided by the Each Occurrence Limit. Two other defendants, Glen Iles and Candace Iles, also filed a counterclaim requesting the same relief as the Aldredges and, in addition, requesting that the circuit court enter an order declaring that the policy limit for the Bulldog Well policy is the General Aggregate Limit in the amount of $1 million instead of the $500, 000 Each Occurrence Limit. The Aldredges and the Iles subsequently filed motions for summary judgment on their respective counterclaims. Bituminous Casualty filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.
¶ 8 In ruling on the parties' requests for a summary judgment, the circuit court had to analyze the language in the two CGL policies and determine whether they were ambiguous with respect to which policy limit applied to the Aldredges' and the Iles' claims. The Aldredges and the Iles argued that if the policies were ambiguous with respect to the policies' limits, then the policies must be construed against Bituminous Casualty to provide for the higher limits. Bituminous Casualty argued that the unambiguous language of the policies provides that the Each Occurrence Limit applied to claims under each policy because the well explosion constituted a single occurrence.
¶ 9 The provisions in the two policies that are relevant to this issue use identical language. The CGL polices cover the insureds for various losses, and the parties agree that the oil well workers' claims as a result of the explosion fall under the "Coverage A" provision in the policies. Coverage A concerns bodily injury and property damage liability, and this section of the policies provides, in relevant part, as follows:
"1. Insuring Agreement
a. We will pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of 'bodily injury' or 'property ...