Car accidents in and around Chicago are the cause of many serious injuries and even deaths. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, there have been 902 traffic fatalities on all public roadways in the state this year to date. Because of the sheer number of accidents and casualties, most people pay for automobile insurance to protect themselves, their homes, vehicles and other forms of property. But all sorts of variables and particularities may limit insurance coverage and one’s entitlement to a recovery under a policy. If you have been involved in an automobile accident, it is important to contact an experienced injury attorney who is fully familiar with the local laws and applicable procedures.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued an opinion limiting one family’s right to a recovery under the state insurance code. In 2009, an 18-year-old was killed in a head-on collision with a 60-year-old drunk driver. The 18-year-old victim was not intoxicated. The victim’s parents received $80,000 from their own automobile liability insurer and $26,550 from the other driver’s insurance policy. Later, they filed a complaint against a third-party, the owner of the bar where the driver had been drinking before the accident. They sought additional recovery under the Dramshop Act for their son’s personal injury and their loss of society.
The Illinois Dramshop Act establishes a cause of action against owners of businesses that sell liquor, for physical injury to a person, for injury to tangible property, or for injury to means of support or loss of society, but not both, caused by an intoxicated person. At the time of the accident, the bar owner maintained a “dramshop liability policy” with a limit of $130,338.51, the statutory cap under the Dramshop Act. The bar owner maintained that his maximum liability was $23,788.51, the difference between the other insurance proceeds and the statutory cap.
During the proceedings, the bar owner’s insurance company was declared insolvent and then liquidated. The Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund assumed his defense. At issue in the case was the interpretation of the applicable statute, namely language suggesting that Fund’s obligation shall be reduced by a plaintiff’s other insurance recoveries. The parties disagreed about the amount against which the setoff applied. Therefore, the question ultimately certified for review was whether the “other insurance recoveries” set forth in the statute should be applied against the jury’s verdict or against the bar owner’s maximum dram shop liability.
The appellate court ruled that the reduction should be applied against the jury’s verdict. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, pointing out that recovery cannot exceed the statutory cap, that is, the maximum extent of the Fund’s obligation. To put it another way, the court found that the Fund’s obligation could not be expanded by a jury verdict and recovery was limited to the dramshop policy limit of $130,338.51. The matter was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.
The decision in this case ultimately relied on basic notions of statutory construction as applied to pertinent parts of the state’s insurance code, which can become quite complicated. If you are pursuing an automobile accident claim, you are encouraged to contact a local Chicago attorney who can help you to obtain a fair and just recovery under the circumstances.