Insurance Coverage Wins Out in Loading Car Claim at Menards

The Illinois Third District Appellate Court has held  that the large hardware chain Menards was entitled to insurance coverage under the automobile insurance policy issued to the insured, the customer, who was injured while a Menards employee loaded her car. 

In this case, Ruby Bohlen purchased gravel and bricks from a Menards store in Champaign, Ill.  She brought her car around to the loading area where her car was to be loaded by an employee of Menards. While the Menards employee was loading the bricks, Bohlen tripped and fell on debris near her car and was injured. 

Bohlen filed a lawsuit against Menards claiming that Menards was negligent in failing to provide a safe place for its customers.  As part of the complaint, Bohlen claimed that Menards chose not to remove debris from the aisles, sidewalks and other areas of the store. 

Bohlen’s car was insured by Country Preferred. The insurance policy covered bodily injury damages resulting from the “use of an insured vehicle, including loading and unloading . . .” In addition, the insurance policy included the definition of “insured as anyone using an insured vehicle with your permission.”  “Your” is the insured and in this case, Bohlen.

After Bohlen filed her lawsuit, Menards requested that Country Preferred defend and indemnify it.  When Country refused, Menards filed this insurance coverage claim. The circuit court in granted summary judgment for Menards finding not only that Country had a duty to defend, but also that the excess “other insurance” provision did not apply. Country Preferred appealed.

The appeals court justice writing the opinion stated that the insurance policy provided coverage for anyone using Bohlen’s vehicle with her permission, which included the employee of Menards who was loading the bricks. That constituted using the vehicle. 

Country argued that the permitted use part of the policy did not apply and that the only use contemplated by the policy was driving the vehicle. The justice writing the opinion disagreed relying on Schultz v. Illinois Farmers Insurance Co., 237 Ill.2d 391 (2010) stating that “use has a broader definition.” In fact, it was emphasized that the Country policy used the terms “loading and unloading.”  

The other issue argued was whether the injury to Bohlen was causally connected to the loading or unloading process. The opinion of the appellate court stated that strict proximate causation was not required. Rather, it was said that the injury must potentially have been the result of a negligent act, which was a reasonable incident or consequence of the use of the insured’s (Bohlen) vehicle.

The appellate court also remarked that the argument about the specific allegations in the Bohlen complaint needed to be liberally construed. Therefore, it was found that the injury suffered by Bohlen could have come as a result of Menards’ use of the vehicle and that the injury was covered giving rise to the duty of Country Preferred to defend.

In short, the trial judge’s summary judgment was affirmed by the Illinois Appellate Court in favor of Menards requiring Country Preferred to defend and indemnify Menards for the injuries to Bohlen.  The case also stands for the proposition that a permissive user of a vehicle for insurance coverage purposes includes someone loading the vehicle and that in the absence of a provision to the contrary, coverage also would apply to a permissive user of a vehicle under an automobile policy.

Menard, Inc. v. Country Preferred Insurance Co., 2013 IL App. (3d) 120340, 2013 WL 2757427 (3d Dist. July 18, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile injury cases, business litigation and business disputes for individuals and companies for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Edgebrook), Chicago (Little Italy), Chicago (Hyde Park), Harwood Heights, Geneva, Chicago Heights, Crete, Orland Park, Tinley Park, Chicago (Rogers Park), Highwood and Homewood, Ill.

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