Injured Officer’s Claim For Uninsured Motorist Coverage Waived And Too Late To Confer Appellate Jurisdiction

Timothy Cooper stole Terry Williams’s car. When Cooper tried to get away, he ran the car into Nikola Pritza’s car. Pritza, a police officer with the Village of Lansing, Illinois, injured his neck in the crash. He filed for and received Workers’ Compensation benefits.

A series of lawsuits and letters followed. Among them, Pritza sued IMLRMA, Lansing’s insurer, for a declaratory judgment, seeking uninsured motorist coverage and damages for vexatiously withholding insurance policy benefits. The trial court dismissed Pritza’s case because the car Cooper stole and ran into Pritza was insured ― so there could not be a proper uninsured motorist claim.

The trial court gave Pritza a chance to file an amended complaint. He did, this time asking that IMLRMA’s policy be reformed to include coverage for underinsured motorist insurance coverage. The amended complaint did not repeat the request for uninsured coverage, and Pritza did not then appeal from the dismissal of his declaratory judgment action. Two months after the first dismissal, the trial court gave IMLRMA summary judgment, ruling that the IMLRMA policy did not have to include underinsured motorist coverage.

Pritza then appealed from the dismissal of his original declaratory judgment case and from the summary judgment in favor of IMLRMA on the amended complaint. IMLRMA argued that the appellate court did not have jurisdiction to consider the dismissal of Pritza’s first complaint for uninsured coverage. The First District Illinois Appellate Court agreed for two reasons:

1. Pritza waived the uninsured motorist claim by not realleging it in his amended complaint. “Allegations in a former complaint, not incorporated in the final amended complaint, are deemed waived. Thus, when a party files such an amended complaint, he thereby waives any objection to the trial court’s ruling on the former complaint.”

2. Pritza’s appeal of the uninsured motorist claim was too late because a denial of a declaratory judgment must be filed within 30 days.
“… [H]ere the court’s judgment order of October 2, 2008, fixed absolutely the rights of plaintiff and defendants on plaintiff’s claim for declaratory judgment for uninsured motorist coverage. Consequently, if plaintiff wished to appeal that judgment, he was required to do so within 30 days … The fact that plaintiff was allowed leave and amended his complaint, and that there was further briefing on another claim for declaratory judgment based on underinsured motorist coverage, avails plaintiff nothing.”

In the end, the appellate court agreed that IMLRMA did not have to provide underinsured coverage. The lesson here for practitioners is: Unless you intend to waive it, your amended complaint must reallege the dismissed cause action, or at least refer to it. And you cannot wait until the end of your case to appeal from a dismissal of a declaratory judgment action.

Read the whole case, Pritza v. Village of Lansing, 1-10-0100 (11/24/10), by clicking here.