Auto Policy Found to Cover Claim Occurring Outside of Vehicle
By Don R. Sampen, published, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin November 18, 2019
The 1st District Appellate Court recently held that an automobile policy issued to a livery service company covered a claim alleging that the driver negligently assisted the passenger after leaving the vehicle.
The case is First Chicago Insurance Co. v. My Personal Taxi and Livery Service Inc., 2019 IL App (1st) 190164 (Oct. 11, 2019). The claimant, Ronald Dixon, was represented by Costello, McMahon, Burke & Murphy Ltd. Leahy, Eisenberg & Fraenkel Ltd. represented the insurer, First Chicago.
Juan Rangel was a driver working for My Personal Taxi and Livery Service Inc. That company provided routine medical transport to the public, including disabled persons.
In 2016, Rangel transported Dixon, who is legally blind, from his home to a medical appointment at a Veterans Affairs hospital. When assisting Dixon to the hospital entrance, Rangel allegedly caused Dixon to walk into a concrete pillar, causing an injury to Dixon. Dixon thereafter sued My Personal Taxi and Rangel.
First Chicago provided automobile liability coverage for My Personal Taxi. Its policy covered, among other things, accidents “resulting from the ownership, maintenance or use of a covered auto.” It brought this declaratory action seeking a determination that the policy did not cover Dixon’s alleged injury for the following reasons:
- Rangel had already transported Dixon to his destination.
- The two had exited the vehicle.
- The vehicle was not being operated at the time.
The alleged injury was arguably too remote for coverage to apply.
Dixon made various arguments in response, including that a contract between the Veterans Administration and My Personal Taxi required that the latter’s driver escort the passenger to the door.
The trial court found, however, that there was no indication that First Chicago knew about the contract. It granted summary judgment in favor of First Chicago.
With Rangel and My Personal Taxi having defaulted in the declaratory action, Dixon filed this appeal.
In an opinion by Justice Sheldon A. Harris, the 1st District reversed. He noted initially that the Supreme Court, in Schultz v. Illinois Farmers Insurance Co., 237 Ill.2d 391 (2010), had found that the “use” of a vehicle was broader than merely operating the vehicle, at least for purposes of automobile insurance. He said, moreover, that First Chicago should have been aware of the Supreme Court’s broad meaning attributed to “use” when drafting its policy.
In addition, he observed that the First Chicago policy contained an exclusion applicable to the loading and unloading of property transported by Livery Service. That exclusion, however, did not apply to passengers, but nonetheless showed First Chicago’s ability to draft an exclusion applicable to loading and unloading.
The property exclusion, Harris said, also did not limit coverage for damage to property outside the vehicle and before it was actually delivered to the recipient. Rather, it applied only to damage that occurred to property before being accepted by My Personal Taxi and after delivery by the company. Thus, even First Chicago appeared to recognize that coverage could apply to damage occurring outside the vehicle but before actual delivery.
Harris further said that assisting a passenger the last few steps from a livery vehicle to the ultimate destination is rationally connected to the livery driver and passenger using the livery vehicle, such as to be within the scope of coverage.
Based on this reasoning, he found that coverage for Dixon’s alleged injury would not fall within the scope of another exclusion, which applied to injuries arising out of “work after that work has been completed or abandoned.” This was so because assisting the passenger to the door was a part of completing the transportation of the passenger, whether or not the driver was legally or contractually obligated to do so.
The 1st District, therefore, reversed in favor of Dixon.
Absent an exclusion stating otherwise, claims arising while an insured driver is assisting a passenger from a vehicle to the door of a destination building may be within the scope of the automobile liability coverage for the vehicle.