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Insurance Company Must Defend Policyholder

the Illinois Supreme Court bench in the court's main building in Springfield
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

The Illinois Supreme Court has put a limit on just who can be excluded from a car insurance policy.

Ana Reyes is being sued for allegedly hitting two people with her car — injuring a mother and killing the woman's four-year-old.

In the lawsuit that followed, Reyes’ insurance company argued it had no duty to defend Reyes or pay the victims.

Insurance company American Access listed Reyes as the policyholder, but it also excluded her from her own policy, and made another man the primary driver.

The company’s lawyer, Keely Hillison, argues there are good reasons to allow this kind of arrangement.

“These exclusions are needed, so that families can get car insurance by excluding an unsafe or unqualified member of the family, who would otherwise prohibit an insurer from issuing a policy, or (would) make it cost-prohibitive,” Hillison told the justices when the case was argued.

But Keith Rhine, a lawyer for the accident victims’ insurance company, says that doesn’t make sense.

“Who’s then the policy for?" Rhine asked the justices. "That is the person who’s named, paying for the policy, owns the vehicle — that is the person who should be covered by this policy.”

The Supreme Court agrees, ruling that a lone policyholder cannot be excluded from her own insurance. It says allowing such insurance plans would go against the public safety reasoning behind Illinois’ mandatory car insurance law.

The case is American Access Casualty Co. v. Reyes, 2013 IL 115601 (pdf).

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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