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Interstate Bankers Casualty Co. v. Hernandez

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

December 18, 2013

INTERSTATE BANKERS CASUALTY COMPANY, a/s/o Jose Mendoza Gonzalez, and JOSE MENDOZA GONZALEZ, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
ALBERTO HERNANDEZ, Defendant-Appellee.

Held [*]

Section 143.24d of the Insurance Code, which requires the arbitration of physical damage subrogation claims between insurers pursuant to the Nationwide Inter-Company Arbitration Agreement when the amount in controversy, exclusive of the costs of arbitration, is less than $2, 500, violates the right to a jury trial and is unconstitutional; here, the complaint basically alleged property damage due to negligence, which has always carried a right to a jury trial, and statutes regulating the right should be liberally construed in its favor and courts should be inclined to protect and enforce the right to a jury trial.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 12-M1-011661; the Hon. James E. Snyder, Judge, presiding.

Beermann Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove LLP, of Chicago (Alvin R. Becker, Deane B. Brown, and Katherine A. Grosh, of counsel), for appellants.

Law Offices of Laura A. Holwell, of Chicago (Laura A. Holwell and Christopher Holwell, of counsel), for appellee.

JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

PUCINSKI JUSTICE

¶ 1 The issue presented to us in this case is whether the mandatory binding arbitration of insurance subrogation claims enacted under section 143.24d of the Illinois Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/143.24d (West 2012)), effective January 1, 2012 (Pub. Act 97-513, § 5 (eff. Jan. 1, 2012)), is unconstitutional because it violates the right to trial by jury. The constitutionality of section 143.24d is a matter of first impression.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On January 9, 2012, plaintiff, Jose Mendoza Gonzalez, was involved in a car accident with defendant, Alberto Hernandez, in Chicago, Illinois. On the date of the accident, Gonzalez was insured for collision coverage under a policy of automobile insurance issued by plaintiff Interstate Bankers Casualty (Interstate). Hernandez was insured by Unique Insurance Company.

¶ 4 On March 26, 2012, Gonzalez and Interstate, as Gonzalez's subrogee, brought a two-count negligence complaint, with a jury demand, against Hernandez. The complaint alleged that Interstate made payments to Gonzalez under its insurance policy as a result of the accident with Hernandez. Count I alleged that as a direct and proximate result of Hernandez's negligent acts, Interstate's subrogor, Gonzalez, suffered property damage to his vehicle in the amount of $1, 154.47, plus the costs of suit. Count II of the complaint alleged that as a direct and proximate result of Hernandez's negligent acts, Gonzalez suffered property damage to his vehicle and loss of use. Gonzalez sought judgment against Hernandez of $500, plus costs of suit.

¶ 5 On April 4, 2012, Hernandez filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2012)), arguing that the complaint should be dismissed because it is barred by section 143.24d of the Illinois Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/143.24d (West 2012)), which became effective on January 1, 2012 (Pub. Act 97-513, § 5 (eff. Jan. 1, 2012)). In their response to the motion to dismiss, plaintiffs argued that section 143.24d is unconstitutional because it deprives plaintiffs of their constitutional right to trial by jury in a negligence action. Plaintiffs also argued that there was no way to adjudicate their property damage claim through the court system because section 143.24d requires arbitration unless both parties mutually agree to another forum and Hernandez did not agree to litigate the case in another forum.

ΒΆ 6 On April 18, 2012, the circuit court entered an order allowing plaintiffs leave to file a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss challenging the constitutionality of section 143.24d and required plaintiffs to provide a copy of their brief to the Illinois Attorney General as notification of the constitutional challenge. Defendant did not file a reply in support of his motion to dismiss. On September 27, 2012, the circuit court granted ...


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