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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Leon

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

August 2, 2019

MARICELA LEON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 CH 26150. Honorable Michael T. Mullen, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: James M. Urtis, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Bruce Farrel Dorn & Associates, of Chicago (Ellen J. O’Rourke, of counsel), for appellee.

          JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Connors concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 The plaintiff-appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm), filed a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court of Cook County seeking a declaration that there was no uninsured motorist coverage available to the defendant-appellant, Maricela Leon. The circuit court entered a judgment in favor of State Farm, and Leon now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Leon had an uninsured motorist policy through State Farm (the policy). The policy allowed Leon to seek coverage for any bodily injuries she suffered which were caused by another driver who did not have insurance. The policy provided, in part:

"The insured must cooperate with us [(State Farm)] and, when asked, assist us in *** securing and giving evidence. *** Any person or organization making claim under this policy must, when we require, give us proof of loss on forms we furnish."

         The policy further provided that there would be no coverage to the extent it benefits any workers' compensation coverage.

         ¶ 4 The "Legal Action Against Us" section of the policy provided that Leon must make any demands for arbitration within two years following the date of the accident. The policy provided that the limitation period "is tolled from the date proof of loss is filed for the specific coverage involved until the date claim for that coverage is denied in whole or in part."

         ¶ 5 On July 9, 2011, Leon was involved in an automobile accident in which she sustained bodily injuries (the accident). At the time of the accident, Leon was working as a driving instructor for Chavez Trucking. She was riding as a passenger in a 2008 Nissan Altima (the vehicle) and instructing Stephani Bernardo, who was driving the vehicle. The vehicle was owned by Cirinio Aguirre. During the driving instruction, Bernardo lost control of the vehicle and struck a brick wall. Through her counsel, Leon then submitted an uninsured motorist claim to State Farm for coverage for her bodily injuries.

         ¶ 6 State Farm then began an investigation into Leon's claim and sent a letter to Leon's counsel requesting specific details and documents surrounding the accident. Leon's counsel submitted the police report from the accident, as well as a letter from Chavez Trucking's insurer, Progressive Insurance Company (the Progressive letter). The Progressive letter, which was addressed to Chavez Trucking, explained that Chavez Trucking's policy did not cover bodily injuries sustained by its employees. The Progressive letter stated: "As [Leon] is an employee of Chavez Trucking and was injured during course and scope of employment, we cannot find coverage for this loss and must respectfully deny any payment."

         ¶ 7 On October 2, 2011, State Farm sent a letter to Leon's counsel, which stated:

"It is questionable whether [Leon] is entitled to benefits either payable or required to be paid under any Worker's Compensation Law, so as to exclude coverage under the policy with respect to a claim for such injuries. For this reason, and for any other reasons which may become known, [State Farm] reserves all its rights under the policy, including the right to deny coverage in its entirety."

         ¶ 8 Two days later, State Farm sent another letter to Leon's counsel. The letter requested a recorded statement from Leon and asked her counsel to contact the claim representative to "coordinate a date and time for this to happen." The letter also stated that State Farm was "looking for written verification that there is no workers['] compensation insurance covering [Leon] for this loss." The letter concluded: "Please provide us with this information when you can."

         ¶ 9 Leon's counsel responded to State Farm by again submitting a copy of the Progressive letter. State Farm subsequently sent another letter to Leon's counsel; this letter requested "written documentation establishing there is no insurance coverage for the driver of the *** ...

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