Jenner & Block

Firm Wins Illinois Appellate Victory for Pro Bono Client in Car Insurance Dispute

A team represented Robert Nixon, a 72-year-old veteran.  At issue in the long-running case was Mr. Nixon’s auto insurance policy, which the insurance company refused to honor after he was involved in an accident.

In 2014, Mr. Nixon purchased a used car and acquired an auto insurance policy from Direct Auto Insurance Company.   When Mr. Nixon was in an accident a few months later, Direct Auto refused to cover him and rescinded his policy, claiming that Mr. Nixon had lied on his insurance application because he had not listed his cousins as members of his “household.”   Because Direct Auto refused to defend Mr. Nixon’s insurance claim, a lawsuit by the other driver in the accident resulted in a default judgment against Mr. Nixon, as well as suspension of his driver’s license for driving without insurance.

Direct Auto sued Mr. Nixon in the Circuit Court of Cook County, seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to indemnify him in light of its rescission.   Mr. Nixon retained the pro bono assistance of another law firm, who took to the case to trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County.   After a bench trial, the Circuit Court ruled for Mr. Nixon, holding that Direct Auto was obligated to indemnify him for the accident.   The circuit court also held that Mr. Nixon had not lied on his application and that Direct Auto had deliberately made its application confusing and misleading. The circuit court held that Direct Auto’s rescission of the policy was “vexatious and unreasonable” and imposed the maximum allowable sanction under the Illinois Insurance Code, awarding an additional $60,000 to Mr. Nixon. 

Direct Auto appealed, and the firm stepped in to represent Mr. Nixon.  On September 30, 2019,  the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the judgment for Mr. Nixon.  The appellate court agreed with the firm that even if Mr. Nixon’s cousins were members of his household (which they were not), that purported misrepresentation would have been immaterial and would not have justified rescission of the policy.  The time for Direct Auto to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court elapsed on January 8, 2020.

Associate Leigh J. Jahnig drafted the response brief, with assistance from Associate Nathaniel K.S. Wackman.   Partners John Mathias, Jr., and David M. Kroeger supervised the drafting.  Paralegal Mary Patston provided invaluable assistance.

TAGS: Appellate, Litigation

PEOPLE: David M. Kroeger, John H. Mathias, Jr., Nathaniel K. S. Wackman, Leigh J. Jahnig

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