You Only Get What You Pay For
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In Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Michael Cook, Michael Schuster, and Highland Auto Glass, Inc., No. 21-cv-348-JPG, United States District Court, S.D. Illinois (March 9, 2023) Auto-Owners Insurance Company’s motion for summary sought declarations that its policy owed neither defense, indemnity nor uninsured motorist coverage to the defendants.
Schuster and Cook on one side and Devin Dahmer on the other were involved in an auto accident. Schuster, president and sole shareholder of Highland, was driving a van he and Highland jointly owned with Cook as his passenger. Both Schuster and Cook were injured in the accident. Cook sued Highland, Schuster, and Dahmer for negligence.
Auto-Owners seeks declarations regarding a “Tailored Protection” insurance policy. Auto-Owners argued that the Auto-Owners Garage Policy does not cover vehicles owned by Highland or Schuster like the vehicle involved in this accident.
Schuster was driving a Ford Econoline van he and Highland owned jointly; Cook was his passenger. Dahmer pulled his van into the roundabout in front of the Highland van, nearly missing the van. Down the road, Dahmer pulled over, and Schuster pulled the Highland van to the side of the road several car lengths in front of Dahmer’s van. Schuster got out, and then Dahmer drove his van into the Highland van, injuring Schuster and Cook. Dahmer’s insurance paid its limits to Schuster, and then Schuster made a claim for a defense, indemnity, and UIM coverage under Highland’s Garage Policy.
The Garage Policy
When obtaining insurance from Auto-Owners, Highland paid premiums for coverage under Division II only which limited the available coverage.
To determine if the underlying suit alleges a situation potentially within the insurance coverage, the Court is required to compare the complaint to the relevant provisions of the insurance policy. If any theory of recovery in the underlying complaint falls within the insurance coverage, the insurer will have a duty to defend.
The Garage Policy is clear that the policy covers bodily injury arising out of an automobile “not owned, hired leased, rented, or registered by the insured or an officer, if it is a corporation.”
Highland was the insured and Schuster was an officer of Highland, and they both owned the Econoline van so there was no coverage under that section for bodily injuries arising from the Econoline van, including from the collision between Dahmer and the van. The only identified Garage Policy provision that would potentially cover bodily injuries arising out of automobiles owned by the insured is Division I coverage, which Highland did not purchase. Since there is no coverage of the Econoline van under Section II, there is also no underinsured motorist coverage arising from an accident with that van.
Schuster agreed but claimed that the “exclusion,” at least to the extent it precludes UIM coverage, violates public policy. The insured bears the heavy burden of showing an insurance provision violates public policy. Schuster pointed to nothing in the Garage Policy that violates Illinois public policy. Rather, he asked the court to award him the coverage he declined to purchase. It does not violate public policy to exclude coverage an insured expressly declined to purchase when it was available.
The court also noted that Schuster was not being left without a remedy for injuries caused by an underinsured motorist. Schuster maintained a separate personal automobile insurance policy from Owners Insurance Company, an affiliate of Auto-Owners, as required by the Financial Responsibility Law and Owners paid the UIM coverage under that policy.
The court granted Auto-Owners’ motion for summary judgment and directed the Clerk of Court to enter judgment accordingly, including declarations that: Auto-Owners owed no duty to defend or indemnify defendants Highland Auto Glass, Inc. and Michael Schuster in connection with the lawsuit Cook v. Highland, in the Circuit Court for the Third Judicial Circuit, Madison County, Illinois; and Plaintiff Auto-Owners Insurance Company owes no underinsured motorist coverage to Michael Schuster under the Auto-Owners policy.
A person seeking insurance is faced with the obligation to determine what coverage to buy before an accident occurs where the coverage is needed. The insureds chose a limited coverage, declined to buy a more extensive coverage, and after an accident tried to get the court cure the error and – with an argument that the policy violates public policy – and give them the coverage they refused to buy. Courts are required to interpret insurance contracts they are not required to, nor will they ever, rewrite a policy.
(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.
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Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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