State high court overturns ruling

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 24, 2005, 2:55am

Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald

The Illinois Supreme Court overturned Madison County Associate Judge Lewis Mallott's May 28, 2002, ruling in an insurance case where the plaintiff argued its payout should be greater because of multiple vehicle coverage--even though only one vehicle was involved in the accident.

Lula Hobbs, who filed her case in Madison County on Feb. 13, 2002, was seeking to increase her payout from her auto insurer--Hartford Insurance Company--claiming her policy entitled her to more money.

At the time of Hobbs' accident in 2000, she carried underinsured-motorist coverage for two cars under a single policy in the amount of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. Hartford issued Hobbs a check for $50,000 representing the difference between the $100,000 per person underinsured-motorist coverage and the $50,000 she received from the other driver’s insurer.

Hobbs claims she was entitled to more since her policy was ambiguous as to the limits of underinsured-motorist coverage and that she should be allowed to stack the underinsured-motorist coverage for the two vehicles, thus producing a per-person limit of $200,000.

Hartford claimed the policy contained unambiguous anti-stacking language and that the underinsured-motorist limit was $100,000.

Judge Mallott ruled that the declarations page of the Hartford policy contained language inconsistent with and contradictory to the anti-stacking provisions creating an ambiguity. He declared that the underinsured-motorist coverage was $200,000. The appellate court agreed on appeal.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald wrote, “This court has determined that anti-stacking clauses in general do not contravene public policy. Moreover, the Illinois Insurance Code expressly authorizes the use of anti-stacking provisions in motor vehicle insurance polices, thus, if the anti-stacking clause at issue are unambiguous, they will be given effect.

“The only reasonable interpretation is that the policy provides only $100,000 of liability to each person insured no matter how many vehicles are listed.

“We conclude that the anti-stacking clause in the Hartford policy unambiguously limits coverage to $100,000 per person, regardless of the number of vehicles."

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