Appellate Court Defines Obiter And Judicial Dictum, And Affirms Auto Insurer’s Summary Judgment

Alex Pajic was injured while driving a truck for his employer. Alex contended that another vehicle caused the accident, but left the scene and never was identified. Alex’s lawsuit against his employer’s insurer, Old Republic Insurance, asked for reformation of the underinsured and the uninsured motorist coverages, and for an award of the limits of those coverages. Alex complained that, contrary to the Illinois Insurance Code, Old Republic did not make a “meaningful offer” of the coverages to the employer.

The trial court ruled that Old Republic complied with the Code, so it gave the insurance company summary judgment. Alex appealed.

The case turned on the interplay among two Illinois Supreme Court cases and a 1990 amendment to the Insurance Code. Alex argued that comments by the Illinois Supreme Court about the amended statute were dictum, and were not controlling, because the case it was deciding involved the pre-1990 amended Code.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court rejected Alex’s argument. The court defined the types of dictum, and their precedential value.

“Obiter dictum is a statement of law made by a court for purposes of illustration, argument, or analogy, or it is a remark uttered “by the way” on some collateral point not directly concerning the question before the court … Obiter dictum is a statement that ” ‘could have been deleted without seriously impairing the analytical foundations of the holding * * * [and] being peripheral, [it] may not have received the full and careful consideration of the court that uttered it.’ ” … “On the other hand, an expression of opinion upon a point in a case argued by counsel and deliberately passed upon by the court, though not essential to the disposition of the cause, if dictum, is judicial dictum.” … Judicial dictum “is entitled to much weight, and should be followed unless found to be erroneous.” … The supreme court’s statements about the 1990 law were more than passing remarks on a collateral point, they were the analytical foundation for its judgment … The supreme court gave full and careful consideration to the points being raised here … “[E]ven obiter dictum of a court of last resort can be tantamount to a decision and therefore binding in the absence of a contrary decision of that court.”

Whether judicial or obiter dictum, the appellate court affirmed Old Republic’s summary judgment. Read the whole opinion, Pajic v. Old Republic Insurance Company, No. 1-08-2782 (9/30/09), by clicking here.

Contact Information