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Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Pritchett

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

April 27, 2015

CINCINNATI INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ROBERT PRITCHETT, Defendant-Appellee

As Corrected April 27, 2015.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, Circuit No. 09-MR-663. Honorable Barbara Petrungaro, Judge, Presiding.

Brian J. Hunt (argued) and Angela M. Rentz, both of Hunt Law Group, LLC, of Chicago, for appellant.

Christopher M. Norem (argued) and Benjamin R. Swetland, both of Parente & Norem, P.C., of Chicago, for appellee.

JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Carter and O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 421

HOLDRIDGE, JUSTICE.

[¶1] The plaintiff, Cincinnati Insurance Co. (Cincinnati), filed this interlocutory appeal in connection with a declaratory judgment action it brought against the defendant, Robert Pritchett (Pritchett). Pritchett was covered under an automobile liability insurance policy issued by Cincinnati. Cincinnati filed suit in the circuit court of Will County seeking a declaration that it has no obligation to arbitrate Pritchett's claim for bodily injury and other claims arising from a single-car vehicle accident on October 10, 2007. Cincinnati and Pritchett filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

[¶2] Relying on our appellate court's decision in Groshans v. Dairyland Insurance Co., 311 Ill.App.3d 876, 726 N.E.2d 138, 244 Ill.Dec. 542 (2000), the trial court found that the language of the Cincinnati policy at issue is ambiguous as to whether automobile accidents like Pritchett's, which did not involve physical contact between the insured's car and a hit-and-run vehicle, are covered under the policy. Accordingly, the trial court denied both parties' motions for summary judgment. Cincinnati filed a motion for reconsideration and clarification which the trial court denied.

[¶3] Cincinnati then filed a motion to certify questions for interlocutory appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (eff. February 26, 2010). The trial court granted Cincinnati 's motion and certified the following two questions for interlocutory appeal:

" 1. Is the policy language ambiguous in that it does not clearly require physical contact between an insured vehicle and another vehicle, either directly or through a continuous chain of events, for coverage to exist?;
2. Is the policy language ambiguous with respect to the necessity of physical contact between an insured vehicle and either a hit and run vehicle or an object caused by a hit and run vehicle to make contact with the insured vehicle through a continuous sequence of events?"

[¶4] Although we initially declined to accept Cincinnati's petition seeking our review of these questions, our supreme court has by supervisory order directed us to accept the appeal and answer the certified questions. Cincinnati Insurance Co. v. Pritchett, 8 N.E.3d 1046, 380 Ill.Dec. 504 (2014) . We conclude that, like the policy language at issue in Groshans, the policy at issue in this case is ambiguous as to whether coverage extends to hit-and-run automobile accidents that involve no physical contact between the insured vehicle and either a hit-and-run vehicle or an object that a hit-and-run vehicle causes to make contact with the insured vehicle. Accordingly, we answer both certified questions in the affirmative and remand the case for further proceedings.

[¶5] FACTS

[¶6] On October 10, 2007, Pritchett was driving a 2000 Mack semitrailer owned by his employer, Carl A. Anderson & Sons, Inc. (Anderson), when he was involved in a single-car accident. Pritchett was traveling

Page 422

westbound on Diehl Road toward the intersection of Diehl Road and Old Diehl Road. When Diehl Road approaches that intersection, the right westbound lane becomes a turn lane and curves to the right onto Old Diehl Road. Pritchett testified that he was traveling in the far right lane at approximately 40 miles per hour and intended to turn right onto Old Diehl Road. Pritchett claimed that, when he was approximately 50 to 100 feet from the right turn lane, a light green sedan passed his truck and cut in front of him, approximately one foot from his bumper. Pritchett claimed that, in response to this, Pritchett slammed on his brakes and turned the wheel to the right. His vehicle then hit the curb on the right side of the road and Pritchett turned the wheel to the left. As a result, the load in the truck ...


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