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Understanding the Duty to Defend and Indemnify in Illinois Insurance Law

Posted by CTM Legal Group | Jun 13, 2024 | 0 Comments

By Attorney Sarah Albert

Insurance policies are essential safeguards that individuals and businesses rely on to protect themselves from various risks and liabilities. Within the realm of insurance law, two fundamental duties often come into play: the duty to defend and the duty to indemnify. These duties are particularly significant in the state of Illinois, where specific legal principles govern their application.

Duty to Defend:

The duty to defend is a crucial obligation imposed on insurance companies. When an insured party faces a claim or lawsuit covered by their insurance policy, the insurer has a duty to provide legal defense for the insured. This duty arises when the allegations in the claim potentially fall within the scope of coverage outlined in the insurance policy, regardless of whether the claim ultimately proves to be valid.

In Illinois, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. Courts typically interpret insurance policies liberally in favor of the insured when determining the insurer's duty to defend. This means that if any part of the claim could potentially be covered by the policy, the insurer is obligated to provide a defense.

Moreover, Illinois courts apply the "four corners rule" when assessing the duty to defend. This rule dictates that the insurer's obligation to defend is determined solely by comparing the allegations in the underlying complaint with the terms of the insurance policy. If any part of the claim could potentially be covered by the policy, the insurer is generally obligated to provide a defense. This means that even if there is uncertainty or disagreement about whether the claim falls within the policy's coverage, the insurer may still have to defend the insured until the issue is resolved. And while the four corners rule is the primary guideline, Illinois courts may consider extrinsic evidence in limited circumstances. If the insurer and the insured agree on undisputed and directly relevant facts or circumstances that could impact coverage, courts may take these into account when assessing the duty to defend.

Duty to Indemnify:

Unlike the duty to defend, the duty to indemnify arises only when the insured is found liable for covered damages or losses. Indemnification refers to the insurer's obligation to compensate the insured for covered losses, including legal judgments, settlements, or defense costs incurred during the defense of a claim.

In Illinois, the duty to indemnify is narrower than the duty to defend. The insurer's obligation to indemnify is contingent upon the insured's actual liability for damages covered by the policy. Therefore, even if the insurer has a duty to defend, it does not necessarily mean that there will be a duty to indemnify if the insured is not ultimately found liable.


Understanding the duty to defend and the duty to indemnify is essential for both insurers and insured parties in Illinois. Insurance policies should be carefully reviewed and interpreted in light of these legal principles to ensure that both parties fulfill their obligations under Illinois insurance law. Insurers in Illinois may still have to provide a defense even if there isn't clear coverage under the policy. This emphasizes the need for clear communication between counsel and client in litigation defense, and a thoughtful evaluation of policy terms.

Top of FormIt is important to understand your coverage, and at CTM Legal Group we can review and interpret your insurance policy to help you understand where your coverage may extend, so you can understand your potential liability as a result of litigation. It doesn't hurt to have another set of eyes on your policy, so reach out today if you would like assistance with this sometimes daunting process.

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