Supreme Court rules teen bicyclist is covered by father’s auto insurance
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[December 02, 2023]
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday 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
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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)
“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
“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.”
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