The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed an appellate court ruling that found that injuries to a 14-year-old boy who was struck by a car while riding his bicycle are covered by his father’s uninsured motorist policy despite language that restricted coverage only to occupants of covered vehicles.
In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that the coverage restriction violated a state statute that requires auto insurers to offer broad coverage for injuries and damage caused by uninsured motorists.
“The plain language of Section 143a of the Insurance Code makes clear that an insurance policy cannot be ‘renewed, delivered, or issued for delivery’ in Illinois unless it provides coverage to ‘any person’ for injuries ‘arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle,” the opinion says, citing the statutory language. “A bicyclist injured by an uninsured motorist vehicle is a ‘person’ who suffered injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of ‘a motor vehicle.’ Therefore, the injured person’s status as an occupant of a vehicle is irrelevant since the statute includes ‘any person’ in the protected category.”
Cristopher Guiracocha was hit by a car while riding his bicycle through an intersection in Chicago. He was treated for injuries to his right arm, shoulder, and thigh. The driver of the car fled the scene of the accident.
Cristopher’s father, Fredy Guiracocha, filed an uninsured motorist claim with Direct Auto Insurance Co. The insurer denied coverage because Cristopher was not an occupant of a covered vehicle.
Direct Auto filed an action in Cook County Circuit Court seeking a declaration that no coverage was owed. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Direct Auto. The Guiracochas appealed.
A panel with the 1st District Appellate Court reversed the trial court, findingthat Section 143a required Direct Auto to cover Cristopher’s injuries. The panel said public policy prohibits an insurer to limit uninsured motorist benefits to occupants of covered vehicles.
The Supreme Court agreed.
“The public policy behind UM coverage is to place the insured in the same position as if the at-fault party carried the requisite liability insurance,” the opinion says. “Thus, whether the injured person occupied a vehicle at the time of the accident with an uninsured vehicle is not the proper inquiry. Rather, the inquiry should be whether the person’s injuries resulted “out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle,” including the uninsured at-fault vehicle.”
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