Purpose of Consolidating Lawsuits is to Expedite Resolution of the Lawsuits

In Farmers Automobile Insurance Association v. Neumann, the defendant in this declaratory judgment action, John E. Neumann (“Neumann”), was involved in a traffic incident on August 27, 2011, with the other defendant in this action, Christopher Bitner (“Bitner”), wherein Neumann allegedly hit Bitner with his automobile while Bitner was directing traffic as a City of Pekin police officer. As a result of the accident, two civil lawsuits were filed naming Neumann as a defendant. The first was a complaint filed by Bitner (“Bitner complaint”), alleging intentional assault and intentional battery by Neumann. Neumann tendered the Bitner complaint to his insurer, Farmers Automobile Insurance Association (“Farmers”). Farmers rejected the defense of the Bitner complaint on the basis that the automobile liability policy issued to Neumann did not cover any claims for intentional conduct. After rejecting the defense of the Bitner action, Farmers filed the instant action for a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty to defend Neumann against the Bitner complaint. Neumann answered the declaratory judgment complaint, asserting affirmative defenses and attaching his affidavit. Thereafter, a second civil action involving the same incident on August 27, 2011, was filed against Neumann, this one by CCMSI Insurance Company (“CCMSI”), as subrogee of the City of Pekin (“CCMSI complaint”). That action alleged that Neumann was negligent and sought to recover the amounts of worker’s compensation that CCMSI would have to pay to Bitner as a result of the accident. Neumann filed a motion to consolidate the Bitner and CCMSI actions, which was granted. Farmers acknowledged, under a reservation of rights, its duty to defend Neumann against the CCMSI complaint. Neumann then filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, asserting that because the actions were consolidated, Farmers should defend both actions. The trial court denied this motion, and Neumann appealed.

On appeal, Neumann contended that the consolidation of the two lawsuits was equivalent to a single lawsuit with several causes of action.  Since Farmers already acknowledged its duty to defend on one claim, it had to defend both claims.

The court reviewed whether the cases were the subject of a single proceeding or could have been brought as one action. The court reasoned that, although the complaints had different named plaintiffs, they both arose from a single incident involving injury to a single person. The court held that the lawsuits were consolidated into one action; and because of the consolidation, Farmers had a duty to defend against the Bitner action. The court justified its holding by reasoning that the purpose of consolidation is to expedite the resolution of lawsuits, conserve time, and avoid duplicating efforts and unnecessary expenses.

Illinois Insurance Law: Where several actions are pending that might have been brought as a single action, the cases may be merged into one action, thereby losing their individual identities, and be disposed of in one suit. Therefore, if a lawsuit pleads several theories of recovery, even if only one theory falls within the insurance policy’s coverage, the insurer owes a duty to defend the entire lawsuit.

Farmers Auto. Ins. Assoc. v. Neumann, 2015 IL App (1st) 140026.