What Is the Meaning of 'underinsured' and How Does the Statutory Language Define 'underinsured Motor Vehicle' ?

In Cummins v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 178 Ill. 2d 474, 687 N.E.2d 1021, 227 Ill. Dec. 539 (1997), the plaintiff suffered injuries in a two car accident, where the at-fault driver had liability limits identical to the plaintiff's underinsured motorist coverage limits. Cummins, 178 Ill. 2d at 476-77. The plaintiff received less than the liability policy limits, however, as a result of claims made by the at-fault driver's passengers, and therefore sought underinsured motorist benefits under his own policy. Cummins, 178 Ill. 2d at 477. The plaintiff's insurer refused to compensate him, arguing that the at-fault driver was not underinsured under either its policy language or the underinsured motorist coverage statute, since the liability policy limits and the underinsured motorist limits were identical. Cummins, 178 Ill. 2d at 477. The Cummins plurality, however, perceived an ambiguity as to the meaning of "underinsured" in the statute where the statutory language defined " 'an underinsured motor vehicle' as one 'for which the sum of the limits of liabiltiy under all bodily injury liability insurance policies is less than the limits for underinsured coverage" yet set " 'the limits of liability for an insurer providing underinsured motorist coverage to be the limits of such coverage, less those amounts actually recovered under the applicable bodily injury insurance policies maintained on the underinsured motor vehicle.' " Cummins 178 Ill. 2d at 480-81, quoting 215 ILCS 5/143a-2(4) (West 1992). The Cummins plurality determined that " 'underinsured' must be defined by comparing the amount of underinsured-motorist coverage to the amount of liability coverage actually recovered from the at-fault driver. To the extent that the amount of liability insurance actually recovered is less than the amount of underinsured-motorist coverage, the liable driver is considered underinsured" (Cummins, 178 Ill. 2d at 485-86).