Divorce is never easy but Illinois is one of more than 20 states that allow no-fault divorces as well as fault dissolution’s on the grounds of impotency, adultery, bigamy, desertion, cruelty or a felony conviction. Couples often seek a no-fault divorce but find that they have issues when it comes to the division of property. In Illinois, property is divided between the two spouses in an equitable manner by determining the following: how long was the couple married; what is a value of the property that each spouse claims and what are the economic circumstances of each of them. Martial property, acquired during the marriage, as well as debts acquired during the same time period, is divided between the two parties. The court also considers what property each of the spouses brought into the marriage, as well as gifts or inheritances that either person received during the marriage; usually this property remains with the spouse whose property it was initially. But, in a recent case, In re marriage of Christopher Washkowiak and Rosana Washkowiak, the Appellate Court of Illinois 3rd District ruled that the settlement of Mr. Washkowiak’s workers’ compensation suit that was placed in a Medicare set-aside account (MSA) was considered to be net proceeds, just as his initial workers’ compensation settlement was considered to be; therefore his wife was entitled to a portion of those proceeds also. MSA funds are usually reserved to pay future medical costs. Under the federal rules, Medicare pays only after the insurance company has paid and, in the case of Workers’ Compensation, Mr. Washkowiak had followed the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) suggested guidelines and placed a portion in a bank account restricted to paying medical bills. While the Court found in favor of the wife on the appeal, one judge dissented claiming the funds were set aside only for the purpose of satisfying Medicare’s interest. It is important to consult with an attorney when dealing with Workers’ Compensation claims as even simply claims and settlements may have unforeseen consequences.
Imagine that your elderly parent is still keeping her prized mint condition 1973 Buick Riviera in the garage. Unbeknownst to you she has also continued to pay the insurance on the vehicle though she no longer has a valid driver’s license. Her favorite seventeen year old grandson begs her to let him drive it around the neighborhood and she, in a moment of wistful memories of you learning to drive that car, agrees. She is oblivious to the fact that he does not have a valid license, having not yet obtained a permit. He drives around the block, waves at his friends and rear-ends an ice cream truck, injuring himself and the driver. This should be okay because grandma has insurance right? Well, in Illinois, several insurance companies involved in incidents like this scenario disagreed. They felt that they had no duty to defend or indemnify drivers who had no or an invalid driver’s license as there were written provisions in the policies that disallowed coverage for bodily injury and property damage from the use of a vehicle where the driver did not have “reasonable belief” that they were entitled to operate the car. Earlier trial courts ruled in favor of the insurance company’s claims that they were not liable because the words reasonable belief would be defined by most people to be anyone with a valid driver’s license. Instead, the Illinois Supreme Court considered the word entitled to be ambiguous, agreeing with the drivers who claimed the word meant anyone who was authorized, or permitted by the insured, to operate the vehicle. The court ruled that the insurance companies could not use the exclusion clause to deny coverage to an unlicensed driver and had to pay the claims. Read your policy carefully before allowing anyone to operate your vehicle. Make sure you know who is covered by the policy and always check to see that the person you lend your car to has a valid license. If you are in an accident and your insurance company denies your claim, consider consulting with an attorney before you sign any paperwork.
Four years ago a taskforce led by Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State, unsuccessfully tried to persuade lawmakers to create broad restrictions on distracted driving. The state only banned texting while driving, and placed some limits on cell phone use, banning them in construction and school zones. Municipalities like Plainfield and Highland Park passed their own ordinances instructing law enforcement to ticket drivers for inattentive actions while driving ranging from using electronic communication devices to eating or attending to personal grooming. Following last year’s report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which reported that 11% of the over 30,000 fatal auto accidents were the direct result of distracted driving, the Illinois House has passed a bill which would outlaw the use of cell phones and hand-held digital assistants while driving in the State of Illinois. If the Senate approves the bill, Illinois would become the 10th state to outlaw hand-held electronic communication devices while driving. The bill as currently written would not outlaw the use of hands-free devices while driving though recent research suggests that any distraction while driving can be fatal.
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