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American Access Cas. Co. v. Alassouli

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

April 29, 2015

AMERICAN ACCESS CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
FARID ALASSOULI and EILEEN BENSON, Defendants-Appellees

Page 804

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 CH 43714. The Honorable LeRoy Martin, Judge, presiding.

FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT: Brianne M. Connell, James P. Newman & Associates, Inc., St. Charles, Illinois.

FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES: Dean Haritos, Cynthia Ramirez, Morse Bolduc & Dinos, LLC, Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 805

HYMAN, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Farid Alassouli made a left turn in front of Eileen Benson as she was driving through an intersection. To avoid hitting Alassouli's car, Benson made an evasive maneuver and struck the front end of another car. Benson made a claim against Alassouli's insurer, American Access Casualty Company (AACC). AACC tried to obtain information about the accident from Alassouli by leaving phone messages, which were not returned, and conducting a skip trace. When AACC could not locate Alassouli, it filed this declaratory judgment action seeking adjudication that it owes no duty to defend or indemnify Alassouli or Benson because Alassouli breached the insurance policy's cooperation clause. The trial court granted Benson's motion for summary judgment on the basis that AACC had not established substantial prejudice by Alassouli's breach of the cooperation clause.

[¶2] We affirm. AACC failed to present evidence that: (i) it acted with reasonable diligence to secure Alassouli's cooperation in its investigation; (ii) Alassouli's failure

Page 806

to cooperate was willful; or (iii) Alassouli's breach of the cooperation clause substantially prejudiced it.

[¶3] BACKGROUND

[¶4] On May 1, 2011, Farid Alassouli turned left from 79th Street onto Roberts Road in, Illinois, just in front of Eileen Benson's car as she passed through the intersection. To avoid striking Alassouli's car, Benson swerved, but then struck the front end of a car driven by Jacek Sader. Police cited Alassouli for failing to yield to oncoming traffic.

[¶5] After the accident, Benson made a claim against Alassouli's AACC insurance policy for damages. An AACC claims adjuster, Cary Loseau, called Alassouli to clarify the facts surrounding the accident and obtain necessary information regarding the events leading up to the accident. Alassouli answered the call and identified himself. But once Loseau told Alassouli that AACC would be recording his statements, Alassouli hung up. Loseau immediately placed another call that went to voicemail, left a " detailed message regarding the need for additional information and informed Alassouli of the importance of returning the call." Five days later, AACC called Alassouli at the same number, leaving a message with his roommate, who promised that he would have Alassouli return the call. Alassouli never called back. AACC made two more phone calls, leaving messages, but again, no response from Alassouli. AACC then conducted a skip trace that revealed nothing about Alassouli's whereabouts. In total, AACC's efforts spanned 13 days and included 5 phone calls and a skip trace.

[¶6] On December 10, 2012, AACC filed a declaratory action against Alassouli and Benson seeking an adjudication that it owes no duty to defend or indemnify Alassouli for any claim arising out of the accident. AACC maintains that it has no duty to defend or indemnify because Alassouli breached the insurance policy's cooperation clause when he failed to communicate with AACC after the numerous phone calls and messages. Benson appeared and filed an answer; Alassouli failed to appear or answer, and the trial court entered a default order against him. (Benson also filed a separate personal injury complaint against Alassouli in the circuit court of Cook County).

[¶7] AACC's cooperation clause provides:

" The insured shall cooperate with the Company and, upon the Company's request or through attorneys selected by the Company to represent the insured must *** (b) assist in making settlements, securing and giving evidence, obtaining the attendance of witnesses and in the conduct of any legal proceedings in connection with the subject matter of this insurance *** (i) allow the Company to take signed and recorded statements and answer all questions we may ask when and as often as we may require; (j) submit to examinations under oath as often as the Company requires, outside the presence of any other insured or person to be examined under oath ***. The company has no duty to provide coverage under this policy unless there has been full compliance with these responsibilities ***."

[¶8] On June 5, 2013, AACC filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing it owes no duty to defend or indemnify Alassouli because he breached the cooperation clause. The trial court denied the motion. A few months later, Benson filed a motion for summary judgment against AACC, arguing that Alassouli did not breach the insurance policy, as a matter of law, because AACC neither showed that it had been substantially prejudiced by the breach nor exercised due diligence in attempting

Page 807

to contact Alassouli. In support, Benson attached affidavits of Sader and Jose De Anda.

[¶9] Sader, in his affidavit, stated he saw Alassouli attempt to make a left turn in front of Benson without properly yielding, causing Benson to make an evasive maneuver to avoid hitting Alassouli. In evading Alassouli's car, Sader stated, Benson collided with the front end of Sader's car. De Anda, an independent witness, reported that he saw a " medium sized sedan" make a left turn directly in front of a sport utility vehicle (SUV), and the SUV had to make an evasive maneuver to avoid contact with the sedan. While the SUV successfully ...


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