Widow fights impaired driver exclusion
On June 12, 2015, John Bruen rented a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta from Enterprise. He purchased “full coverage” insurance, which included “Supplemental Liability Protection” (SLP or excess policy). The insurance was provided by Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company. The policy provided coverage through a surety bond in the amount of $100,000, with the potential for an additional $900,000 of excess liability coverage. The SLP policy included an exclusion that the insurance did not apply to a loss where the insured was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The rental agreement listed Thomas Bruen as an additional authorized driver of the rental car.
On June 13, 2015, while driving the rental car, Thomas Bruen was involved in an accident that killed Robert Crowley and injured his wife, Barbara Crowley. Bruen had marijuana, cocaine, and opiates in his system at the time of the accident, and he was subsequently convicted of aggravated driving under the influence of drugs.
On May 1, 2017, Barbara Crowley filed a personal injury complaint against Thomas Bruen. She alleged that his negligent operation of the rental car caused the accident and the resulting injuries to her and her late husband.
On September 29, 2017, Crowley filed a complaint against Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago, LLC, and Enterprise Holdings, Inc., as well as Empire, seeking a declaration that the Empire excess policy provided coverage for the claims she had asserted against Thomas Bruen in the underlying case.
On January 16, 2018, Crowley filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings against Empire. She argued that Empire was obligated to provide coverage based on its insurance contract with John Bruen. She asserted that the intoxication exclusion in the Empire policy was void because it was contrary to Illinois public policy.
On February 23, 2018, Empire filed a motion for summary judgment on Crowley’s action. Empire argued that, based on the language of the insurance contract, Thomas Bruen was not entitled to coverage because he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Empire asserted that the contract was neither ambiguous nor against public policy.
On July 18, 2018, the court denied Empire’s motion for summary judgment and indicated that it would treat Crowley’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as a motion for summary judgment.
On August 15, 2018, the court granted Crowley’s motion for summary judgment. The court found that the intoxication exclusion in Empire’s SLP policy was unenforceable as against public policy and that the policy provided an additional $900,000 of excess coverage. Empire appealed.
On appeal, the court noted that, although the state’s financial responsibility law requires each motorist to have minimum liability limits regardless of fault, the law does not mandate that excess or supplemental liability coverage be obtained once the mandated liability limits have been met. In addition, the court said, no state statute precludes an intoxication exclusion in an excess or supplemental liability policy. In light of these facts, the court found that Empire’s denial of excess or supplemental liability to Bruen based on his violation of the insurance contract did not violate public policy. The judgment of the trial court was reversed.
Crowley v. Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company-Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District-June 18, 2019-No. 2-18-0752.