Under Illinois law, an insurer’s duty to defend includes the right to control the defense, which allows insurers to protect their financial interest in the outcome of the litigation. However, where a conflict of interest exists, the insured, rather than the insurer, is entitled to assume control of the defense of the underlying action. If this occurs, the insurer satisfies its obligation to defend by reimbursing the insured for the cost of defense provided by independent counsel selected by the insured. What circumstances and situations arise to the level of an actual conflict of interest between the insurer and insured are often grounds for dispute.
In Joseph T. Ryerson & Son, Inc. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America, 2020 IL App (1st) 182491 (Apr. 7, 2020), the Illinois Appellate Court addressed whether damages awarded by a jury in excess of the policy limits were sufficient to trigger a right to independent counsel for post-trial and appellate proceedings. According to the Illinois Appellate Court, at least under the facts of the Ryerson case, the answer is “no.”
In Ryerson, Nancy Hoffman sued Ryerson for injuries sustained in a tractor-trailer accident. Ryerson tendered the suit to its primary insurer, Travelers, and its umbrella insurer, Illinois National. The policy limits were $2 million and $25 million, respectively. A jury found in favor of Hoffman for over $27.6 million in damages, and Ryerson appealed.