The Illinois Appellate Court recently reviewed questions of insurance policy limits regarding an Illinois trucking accident. The Illinois truck crash involved a truck and three semi trucks who were all employed by the same company, Wayne Wilkens Trucking. The issue in Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Munroe, 7th Cir., No. 09-3427, was whether the relevant accident constituted one single claim or whether it was three separate claims.
The three tractor-trailers were driving in a convoy format, heading northbound on an Illinois highway. At the time of the truck accident the individual driver, Joshua Monroe, was driving southbound in opposing lanes of traffic. The second truck in the convoy was trying to pass the first truck, but veered back into line when he saw Monroe headed towards him. However, the driver of truck two did not do so fast enough and Monroe’s tractor-trailer hit the back of the second vehicle, which in turn caused Monroe to spin into truck three.
As a result of the Illinois truck crash, Monroe sustained severe burns and several broken bones. His claim against the three trucks’ employer, Wayne Wilkens Trucking, alleged that his injuries were the result of three separate acts of negligence on behalf of Wilken’s employees. It alleged that driver two negligently attempted to pass another vehicle when it was unsafe, that driver one failed to yield to the driver two, and that driver three was tailgating driver three. Monroe’s claim further alleged that because there were three separate acts of negligence that there should also be three different claims.
The number of claims is significant because Wilken’s insurance policy placed a $1 million limit per each occurrence. Therefore if there were only one occurrence, then Monroe would be able to recover up to $1 million; whereas if there were three occurrences/claims, then Monroe could recover up to $3 million.
Wilken’s insurance company insisted that the policy was limited to $1 million based on its assessment of the accident as one claim, not three. It reimbursed the owner of Monroe’s truck for about $100,000 in damages and then offered the remainder of the $1 million to Monroe in settlement. While Monroe accepted the $900,000, he still contended that his accident was actually three claims and not just one. Therefore, Monroe signed only a limited release that stated while he did release Wilkens from any liability above its policy limits that he would be allowed to pursue a tort claim if it were determined that their policy limits were in fact $3 million.
The policy limit issue was taken before the Illinois Appellate Court to obtain a ruling on whether the multi-car accident was one claim or three separate claims. The court applied the “cause theory” in order to determine the number of occurrences applied to the insurance policy. Under the cause theory the number of different occurrences is found by reviewing the number of separate, intervening acts that caused the claim(s).
In reviewing Monroe’s case, the court found that while there may have been multiple causes of the trucking accident, the chain of events was continuous and uninterrupted. Therefore, the court found that the causes, while separate, were not intervening. According to the court’s analysis, all of the causes came together at the same time to cause the single accident that has then given rise to a single claim.
According to the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision, the accident was a single occurrence and Wilken’s policy limits were set at $1 million and not $3 million. Therefore Wilkens is release from any further legal action under the terms of Monroe’s limited release. Since the policy limits have been shown to be $1 million, which is the limit applied to Monroe’s settlement, Wilkens is protected from any further action since that action would require it to pay out funds above and beyond its policy limits, which would violate the terms of the settlement.
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