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Supreme Court rules teen bicyclist is covered by father’s auto insurance policy

Justice Lisa Holder White is pictured in a file photo during the Illinois Supreme Court’s oral arguments at Chicago State University in May. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Andrew Adams)

Law requires hit-and-run coverage, even when victim is not in a car

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, that automobile insurance policies must cover people against uninsured motorists and hit-and-run accidents, even if the person covered by the policy is not in a vehicle at the time of the accident.

The case involved a 14-year-old Chicago boy, Cristopher Guiracocha, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 2020 while riding his bicycle on a public street. He suffered injuries to his right arm, shoulder and thigh that required medical attention.

To pay the medical bills, Christopher’s father, Fredy Guiracocha, filed an uninsured-motorist claim with his auto insurance company, Nashville, Tennessee-based Direct Auto Insurance.

Illinois law requires anyone driving a motor vehicle to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance. The law also requires those policies to insure drivers and their passengers against injuries caused by uninsured motorists and hit-and-run drivers.

But Direct Auto denied Guiracocha’s claim, arguing that Christopher was not an occupant of his father’s vehicle at the time of the accident and, therefore, was not covered by that insurance policy.

Direct Auto pointed to the language in its policy that said its coverage only applies to people occupying the insured motor vehicle at the time of the accident.

A trial court initially agreed with the company and dismissed the claim, but the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed that decision. On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appellate court’s ruling.

“The public policy behind (uninsured motorist) coverage is to place the insured in the same position as if the at-fault party carried the requisite liability insurance,” Justice Lisa Holder White wrote for the court. “Thus, whether the insured person occupied a vehicle at the time of the accident with an uninsured vehicle is not the proper inquiry. Rather, the inquiry should be whether the person’s injuries resulted ‘out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle,’ including the uninsured at-fault vehicle.”

Jonel Metaj, who argued for Guiracocha at the Supreme Court, said in an interview Thursday that the decision was a victory for insurance customers in Illinois, particularly those who are injured while walking or biking.

“They have a policy, they comply with the law,” he said. “They have an insurance policy in case they hit somebody, and that policy protects them in the event that they are hit by somebody while walking or biking. So it’s a big win for the residents of the state.”

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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