Multiple Limits on Declarations Pages Results in Stacking

March 26, 2019 / Writing and Speaking

By Don R. Sampen, published, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin March 26, 2019

The 5th District Appellate Court recently held that the listing of liability limits twice in the declarations pages of an automobile insurance policy required that the limits be stacked, so that twice the limits set forth in the policy would apply to the underlying claimants’ claims.

The case is Hess v. Estate of Klamm, 2019 Ill. App (5th) 180220 (Feb. 11, 2019). The insurer, State Auto Insurance Cos. d/b/a Meridian Security Insurance Co., was represented by Pretzel & Stouffer Chtd. Winters, Brewster, Crosby & Schafer LLC in downstate Marion represented the underlying claimants.

The claims arose as the result of an automobile collision in 2015. The accident resulted in multiple deaths and injuries, including the death of the allegedly negligent driver, Tjay Klamm.

Prior to the accident, Meridian issued an automobile liability policy covering the vehicle driven by Klamm and three other vehicles. The stated liability limits of the policy were $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.

The policy, however, listed those limits for three of the four vehicles on one page of the declarations. And it separately listed the same limits applicable to the fourth vehicle on a second page of the declarations. The Limit of Liability section of the policy then referred to the declarations pages to describe the limits.

That section stated that “the limit of liability shown in the [d]eclarations for each person” would apply for bodily injury liability to each person, and subject to the each person limit, the “limit of liability shown in the [d]eclarations for each accident” would apply to each accident.

The claimants, nonetheless, argued that the limits stated should be stacked, because they were listed more than once in the declarations pages.

The trial court agreed. Upon summary judgment, it found that the coverage limits should be quadrupled, so that a $400,000 per person limit and a $1.2 million per accident limit would apply. In so finding, the trial court relied on the listing of limits in endorsements that did not become effective until after the date of the accident. Meridian took this appeal.

Analysis

In an opinion by Justice James R. Moore, the 5th District affirmed but modified the result. Moore’s analysis relied on two Illinois Supreme Court cases that, in dicta, suggested that the multiple printing of policy limits for covered automobiles on the declarations pages could create an ambiguity leading to the stacking of limits.

The two cases were Bruder v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 156 Ill.2d 179 (1993), and Hobbs v. Hartford Insurance Co. of the Midwest, 214 Ill.2d 11 (2005), the latter referencing the dicta in the former. Neither case, however, had occasion to allow the stacking of limits.

Since these two cases, Moore observed that the 5th District, relying on the dicta, allowed the stacking of liability limits on several occasions, most recently in Cherry v. Elephant Insurance Co., 2018 IL App (5th) 170027. In that case, according to Moore, the 5th District allowed stacking of the relevant coverage four times, where the declarations pages separately listed the relevant coverage limits under four different vehicles.

Based on these precedents, Moore said that stacking would be allowed in the instant case, but only twice, for total limits of $200,000 per person and $600,000 per accident. He explained that the trial court’s quadrupling of limits was improper because it was based on the listing of limits in endorsements that were not in effect at the time of the injuries.

The 5th District, therefore, affirmed, as modified, so as to allow the double stacking of the policy’s liability limits.

Key point

The multiple listing of liability limits in the declarations pages of an automobile liability policy can create an ambiguity so as to justify the stacking of limits, when the limit-of-liability section of the policy refers back to the declarations pages to determine the applicable limits.

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