Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Geico seeks to dismiss suit alleging vehicle evidence shipped to Africa; Insurer says underlying collision suits have been settled

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jun 6, 2017

Geico seeks to dismiss an East St. Louis trucking company’s lawsuit alleging the insurance company shipped a vehicle to Africa that was evidence in three lawsuits that have since been settled.

Beelman Truck Company filed the complaint on Sept. 28 against Geico Casualty Company.

In its complaint, Beelman argues that on Jan. 19, 2010, Vera Rees was driving a 2001 Kia Sportage on Illinois Route 13 in Randolph County when she allegedly lost control, drove off the paved portion of the highway and overturned the vehicle.

Passengers Alyssa Anderson and Ronald Rees were injured and Kaitlyn Niermann was killed in the crash.

As a result, Beelman was named a defendant in three lawsuits stemming from the crash in St. Clair County, which were later consolidated (11-L-481).

Beelman claims it sent letters to Rees and Geico demanding the vehicle involved in the accident be preserved as evidence.

On April 14, 2015, Rees responded in discovery that the vehicle had been disposed of and is no longer available for inspection.

Then on Dec. 22, 2015, Beelman was denied leave to amend its complaint in regards to Geico, but was allowed to file a separate action against the insurer.

In its complaint against Geico, Beelman claims the defendant possessed the vehicle for some period following the accident but allowed it to be sold.

Beelman claims the vehicle is “apparently now located somewhere on the continent of Africa.”

“As a direct and proximate result of the actions of GEICO, Beelman has been significantly hampered in its ability to defend itself in the underlying action,” the complaint states.

Geico filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on May 18 through attorney Andrea Ross of Stone & Johnson Chtd. in Chicago.

The defendant argues that the plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action for spoliation of evidence.

It claims the Illinois Supreme Court has held that there is generally no duty to preserve evidence.

“In the instant case, Beelman has not alleged an agreement, contract or statute to establish that GEICO owed a duty to preserve the vehicle,” the motion states.

Geico also argues that the complaint fails to sufficiently allege a voluntary undertaking by the defendant.

“The complaint merely alleges that GEICO possessed the vehicle ‘for some period’ following the accident,” the motion states. “The plaintiff fails to allege any additional affirmative conduct by GEICO showing its intent to voluntarily undertake a duty to Beelman. Accordingly, Beelman has failed to sufficiently allege a voluntary undertaking by GEICO as required under Illinois law.”

The defendant also argues that Beelman has not and cannot plead a breach of any alleged duty.

“In the instant matter, Plaintiff’s complaint alleges only that the vehicle is no longer available for inspection,” the motion states. “Nowhere in the complaint does Beelman allege that it never had an opportunity to inspect the vehicle at issue. Accordingly, under Illinois law, Beelman has not sufficiently pled a breach of any alleged duty.”

Geico further argues that Beelman failed to sufficiently plead proximate cause, claiming the plaintiff’s allegations are conclusory.

“Additionally, Beelman has not alleged specific facts that, if proven, would show that, due to the loss of the evidence, it will lose the underlying case. It merely states that if it is unsuccessful in its defense then it will be because of the loss of the vehicle.

“Furthermore, it is undisputed that the underlying case has been settled,” the motion states.

The plaintiff is represented by Dean Nichols of Pitzer Snodgrass PC in St. Louis.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 16-L-513

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Supreme Court Pitzer and Snodgrass, P.C. St. Clair County Circuit Court Stone & Johnson, Chtd.