Skaperdas v. Country Casualty Insurance Co., 2015 IL 117021
As a general rule, everyone has a duty to exercise ordinary care. When we fail to do so and someone else gets injured, we may be liable for the damages. This is true for businesses as well, and, in the case of Steven Skaperdas, his insurance agent. Skaperdas bought auto insurance from Country Casualty Insurance Company. His fiancée was subsequently involved in an accident while driving one of Skaperdas’s covered vehicles. Country covered the loss, but instructed Skaperdas to add his fiancée to the policy.
Skaperdas met with a Country insurance agent and requested that his fiancée, Valerie Day, be added to the policy. The agent added “female, 30-64” onto the declarations page. Later, Valerie’s son was riding his bike when he was hit by a car and severely injured. The driver’s insurance coverage did not cover the medical costs. Skaperdas and Day sought coverage from Country under their underinsured policy. Country denied the claim, reasoning that neither Day nor her son was listed on the policy.
Skaperdas and Day sued Country and the insurance agent. The circuit court dismissed the claim and the appellate court reversed. The agent and Country appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Court’s decision looked closely at whether an insurance agent has a duty to exercise ordinary care and skill in selecting the insurance coverage requested by a customer. The Illinois Supreme Court said that an insurance agent does have a duty in certain situations.
The Court found that when a customer asks an insurance agent for a specific coverage—in this case, Skaperdas asked for coverage for his fiancée—then the agent has a duty to procure specified coverage. If the agent fails to do so, the agent is responsible for the injuries that follow. The Court noted that this duty only arises when the customer asks for specific coverage.
The Court relied on Melrose Park Sundries, Inc. v. Carlini, a case detailing a business owner asking her insurance agent to ensure that, “all requirements for insurance [were] taken out, including the building, *** the liquor, any type of liability policy.” 399 Ill. App. 3d 915, 917-18 (2010). The business owner did not specifically request or receive workers’ compensation insurance, as required by law. The business owner sued, arguing that the agent did not exercise ordinary care when procuring insurance. The Court found that because she did not specifically ask for workers’ compensation insurance, that the relevant insurance statute did not apply. Therefore the agent did not owe duty of ordinary care.
Additionally, the Court found that pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior, Country could be held liable for the tortuous actions of its agent, even if Country did not engage in tortuous activity.
The lesson: It’s important to ask for specific coverage when buying or renewing your insurance. Make sure to ask your agent about all policies and endorsements available, so that you can determine what to ask for, specifically.