Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Insurance Company Based on Ambiguous Policy Term

teenage unlicensed driverIt is not uncommon for car owners to loan their vehicles to other individuals. Whether it is a friend helping another friend get to work, or a parent asking a child to take someone to the airport, loaning your car to another driver carries significant liability and demands careful consideration in some situations. As a recent Illinois appellate case demonstrates, being involved in an accident with a driver who was loaned a vehicle by the car owner requires a special burden of proof and involves unique legal issues that often require the experience and knowledge of a Chicago car accident lawyer.

The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered injuries when he was involved in an accident with a 15-year-old driver who possessed a valid Illinois driver’s permit. On the morning of the accident, the driver’s father asked the minor driver to move the family’s vehicle to another parking space. The father also asked the son to perform this task so that he could observe the son’s parallel parking skills. Then, after the vehicle was parked, the father and son prepared to depart to take the son and his brother to school. As the son prepared to exit the parking space, he pushed the gas pedal instead of the brake by accident, causing the vehicle to hit the car in front of his vehicle. The plaintiff happened to be standing in front of the car that the son hit, which resulted in the plaintiff being pinned between that car and the car in front of it.

The plaintiff’s complaint asserted a claim for injuries against the father and son. The vehicle was subject to an insurance policy, and the insurer sought a declaration that it had no duty to defend the father and son because the policy did not contain coverage for injuries that resulted from the use of the vehicle by a person who did not have a reasonable belief that he or she was entitled to use the vehicle. At the time the accident occurred, the father was standing across the street and was not in the vehicle. According to Illinois law, an individual with a learning permit must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older when operating a vehicle. The insurance company argued that the son was driving alone at the time the crash occurred and that based on this, the son did not have a reasonable belief that he was entitled to operate the vehicle.

The insurer filed a motion for summary judgment, which the lower court granted. A motion for summary judgment asks the court to decide legal issues as a matter of law without the assistance of the jury. The party seeking summary judgment has to show that there are no issues of material fact that would require the jury’s adjudication. The plaintiff appealed. On review, the appellate court reversed the order of summary judgment, finding that the term “reasonable belief” in the policy was ambiguous and therefore required a determination by a jury as to its meaning.

If you have been involved in a car crash, you may be entitled to compensation. Dealing with insurance companies can be difficult, especially if they do not play fair. Many insurance companies fail to keep your best interests in mind. At Therman Law Offices, we have assisted Chicago residents with litigating a wide variety of motor vehicle accident cases, including car accidents and truck accidents. To schedule your free consultation, call us at 773-545-8849 or contact us online to get started.

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