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Insurers must provide coverage to cyclists, pedestrians hit by uninsured drivers, Illinois Supreme Court rules

Attorney Jonel Metaj represented Fredy Guiracocha in his lawsuit against insurer Direct Auto. The firm denied Guiracocha’s claim that his son was entitled under his uninsured motorist coverage for treatment when he was struck by a car while biking.
Anthony Vazquez
/
Chicago Sun Times
Attorney Jonel Metaj represented Fredy Guiracocha in his lawsuit against insurer Direct Auto. The firm denied Guiracocha’s claim that his son was entitled under his uninsured motorist coverage for treatment when he was struck by a car while biking.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that insured pedestrians or bicyclists struck by a hit-and-run or uninsured driver should be entitled to uninsured motorist coverage from their insurance companies.

The court said auto insurance companies whose policies include language requiring a person to be in an insured motor vehicle to qualify for uninsured motorist coverage are violating both the Illinois Insurance Code and public policy.

The case stemmed from a hit-and-run in Chicago in September 2020. Fredy Guiracocha filed an uninsured motorist claim with Direct Auto on behalf of his then-14-year-old son Christopher, who was hit by a driver while riding his bicycle.

Guiracocha’s policy with Direct Auto extended coverage to members of his family. His son had suffered injuries to his right arm, shoulder and thigh that required medical treatment.

Uninsured motorist coverage helps people pay for damages caused by a driver who is not insured.

But Direct Auto denied the claim, citing language in its policy stating that uninsured motorist coverage is only available to insured people who are injured while they are in an insured automobile, and Christopher was on a bicycle during the accident.

“While we acknowledge the Guiracochas carried a heavy burden in seeking to invalidate the insurance policy, we find they met their burden where the provision in the policy limiting UM coverage to insureds occupying an ‘insured automobile’ violates section 143a of the Insurance Code and is unenforceable as a matter of public policy,” the opinion stated.

Jonel Metaj, lead attorney for the Guiracochas in the case, said he was “thrilled” with the court’s judgment.

“We are thrilled for our clients. We’re thrilled that we are setting law that essentially affects all citizens because we all have insurance. We don’t want these auto insurance companies to be able to restrict coverage,” Metaj said.

The auto insurance company did not dispute that Christopher was considered an insured person under his father’s policy, but it said section 143a of the Illinois Insurance Code does not require coverage for pedestrians or individuals not occupying a vehicle.

The case went to Cook County Circuit Court, and on Jan. 12, 2022, Judge Sophia Hall entered an order granting summary judgment in favor of Direct Auto, declaring that the company did not owe any coverage.

The Guiracochas filed an appeal, and the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the Circuit Court’s decision on Sept. 30, 2022, stating that Direct Auto’s “restrictive language” limiting coverage violates section 143a of the Illinois Insurance Code.

In affirming the appellate court’s decision, the Illinois Supreme Court wrote in its opinion that the language of that section of the insurance code makes clear that an insurance policy in Illinois cannot be issued “unless it provides coverage to ‘any person’ for injuries ‘arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.’”

It went on to say that “an injured person’s status as an occupant of a vehicle is irrelevant because the statute includes the words ‘any person,’ and given that Christopher was covered under his father’s policy he is ‘insured thereunder’” and is entitled to uninsured motor vehicle coverage.

Attorneys for Direct Auto could not immediately be reached for comment.

Metaj said although Christopher has now recovered from the injuries he suffered in the accident, he still has outstanding medical bills.

“He was very appreciative and very thankful” when he was told about the court’s ruling, Metaj said. “This is a big win for all residents of the state.”

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