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Fifth District Allows New Trial for Insurance Customer Unhappy With Arbitration Award

 

Our Illinois insurance bad faith attorneys were pleased to see a recent decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeals that upheld a driver’s right to fair treatment from her auto insurance company. American Family Mutual Insurance Company v. Stagg, Ill. 5th No. 5-08-0088 (Aug. 10, 2009) Diane Stagg had an insurance policy with American Family that included uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. That part of the policy had a provision stating that the parties could demand arbitration if they couldn’t agree on the existence or amount of coverage. It also said that arbitration awards would be binding and could be entered as judgments in court if they did not exceed the minimum limits set by the Illinois Safety Responsibility Law. If they did exceed that limit, either party has the right to a trial. The limit for bodily injury at the time was $20,000.

Stagg was later hit by an at-fault driver with a very small amount of insurance. She collected the $25,000 available in liability insurance from the at-fault driver, but requested more under her uninsured motorist coverage. She and American Family went to arbitration and she was awarded $36,340.75. However, the arbitrators set off $25,000 for the at-fault driver’s payment and $5,000 in expenses American Family had paid, leaving her with an award of just $6,340.75. Four months later, American Family filed a complaint to enforce that judgment, saying Stagg hadn’t objected to the award within time limits set by the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act. The next month, Stagg filed a separate action against American Family, seeking a new trial.

The parallel claims may have caused some conflicting decisions by the court, but it eventually clarified that it intended to grant Stagg’s motion to dismiss American Family’s complaint. American Family appealed, arguing that the arbitration award was $6,340.75, too low to meet the contract’s threshold for going to court. Stagg argued that the arbitration award was actually 36,340.75, making it larger than the minimum limit cited in the contract. In its analysis, the court found that the term “arbitration award” as used in the contract was subject to more than one interpretation. Under American States Insurance Co. v. Koloms, 177 Ill. 2d 473, 479 (1997), the court said, ambiguous language in an insurance policy should be construed against the drafter. Thus, Stagg is entitled to a new trial under the contract.

The court then addressed American Family’s contention that Stagg missed the deadline to appeal the arbitration award under the Uniform Arbitration Act. The Fifth agreed with Stagg, who argued that the limitation didn’t apply because she isn’t challenging the award through the Act, but instead requesting a new trial. The arbitration award was never binding under the contract’s language, the court said, meaning that Stagg had no obligation to state any grounds for overturning it. Thus, the court’s decision to dismiss American Family’s complaint was upheld.


DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle has extensive experience fighting cases of insurance bad faith and other misbehavior by insurance companies. The Chicago trial lawyers at DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle have litigated complex consumer and insurance cases for over a quarter century many years. Consumers pay premiums for months or years before they need to use their auto insurance; they are entitled to be rewarded for their investment and their loyalty with fair dealing. Our Chicago insurance fraud lawyers are dedicated to protecting insurance clients’ right to fair settlements and all of the services they were promised in their contracts. Centrally located in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., near Wheaton, Naperville, Waukegan, Joliet and Chicago, we represent clients throughout Illinois, the Midwest and the United States.

If you believe your insurance company isn’t playing fair, don’t hesitate to call one of our Illinois insurance fraud attorneys for a free, confidential consultation. To set one up, you can call us toll-free at 1-877-990-4990 or contact us through our Web site.