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Smith v. American Hearthland Ins. Co.

2017 IL App (1st) 161144 (Ill. App., 2017)

Words & Phrases

Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Late Notice

Trial Judge

Kathleen Pantle

Appellate Judge



120-day notice requirement for UM coverage violated public policy and was unenforceable.

Fact Summary

This is an appeal regarding insurance coverage and the notice clause of an uninsured motorist provision contained within the policy. Plaintiff and counterdefendant-appellee, Nancy Smith, was a passenger in an automobile involved in a hit-and-run accident where the other vehicle could not be identified because it fled the scene. The owner of the vehicle Smith rode in had a split insurance policy. One company insured the collision portion, and defendant/counterplaintiff-appellant, American Heartland Insurance Company (hereinafter “Heartland”), insured the liability portion. Heartland denied her claim based on the failure to comply with the notification requirement found in the hit-and-run coverage, and Smith filed this declaratory judgment action.

After conducting discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment. Heartland argued it was undisputed that Smith failed to provide written notification of her claim within 120 days of the accident as required by the policy. In her motion for summary judgment, Smith argued her notice was reasonable under the circumstances and, alternatively, the notice provision violated the public policy of Illinois. The circuit court denied both motions after concluding there were genuine issues of material fact that needed to be resolved and proceeded to trial. After trial, the court concluded that it could not enforce the 120-day provision because it “may” violate the public policy of Illinois. The circuit court concluded that the standard to be applied was whether notice was reasonable. Based on the testimony and evidence before it, the court entered judgment for Smith, finding her notice to be reasonable.

On appeal, Heartland argues that (1) the circuit court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, (2) the circuit court erred in finding the 120-day notice provision ambiguous and applying reasonableness factors to find notice timely, and (3) the notice provision does not violate the public policy of Illinois. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the circuit court in denying summary judgment and proceeding to trial. We find that the notice provision is not ambiguous; however, despite this, we conclude the reasonableness factors found in Country Mutual Insurance Co. v. Livorsi Marine, Inc., 222 Ill. 2d 303, 313 (2006), represent suitable guidelines in determining whether a notice provision violates public policy. We conclude that, when applied to the facts and circumstances of this case, the notice provision violates the public policy of Illinois regarding uninsured motorist benefits. Accordingly, we affirm the entry of judgment in favor of Smith.