(Missouri Independent) – A Branson-area Christian summer camp accused of covering up years of sexual abuse of its students is suing its insurance company, claiming it threatened to deny coverage if information about the abuse was made public.
Kanakuk Kamps filed a cross-claim last month against ACE American Insurance Co. as part of a 2022 lawsuit filed by a former camper who says his family was deceived into signing a “fraudulent” settlement agreement after he was sexually abused by a camp director.
The insurance company “threatened to deny Kanakuk coverage” if the camp disclosed the abuse by former director Peter Newman to families, Kanakuk’s attorneys argue in the cross-claim.
If the former camper, Logan Yandell, “has suffered damages as alleged,” Kanakuk’s cross-claim contends, “…such damages were caused by [ACE American Insurance Co.] and not by Kanakuk.”
Yandell described Kanakuk’s argument as “blame-shifting.”
“Our lawsuit has compelled them to reveal the truth, but instead of actually accepting responsibility…they’re trying to shift the blame to their insurance company as if an insurance company held a gun to their head,” he said in an interview Monday. “An insurance company doesn’t make them do anything.”
The core of the case revolves around whether Kanakuk leadership was aware in advance that Newman was abusing campers.
Yandell was sexually abused from around 2005 to 2008 by Newman. His family settled for a confidential amount in 2010 and signed a non-disclosure agreement after camp leadership informed the family they were unaware of the abuse and considered it an isolated incident, according to the complaint.
However, if the family had been aware of camp leadership’s prior knowledge of Newman’s sexual misconduct, Yandell’s lawsuit asserts, they wouldn’t have agreed to it.
Newman, whom Kanakuk refers to on its website as a “master of deception,” pleaded guilty in 2010 to seven counts of sexual abuse and is serving two consecutive life sentences plus thirty years. The prosecutor in his case estimated that Newman’s victim count could be in the hundreds.
Yandell’s lawsuit presents evidence that Kanakuk was aware of Newman’s behavior earlier: According to an affidavit from Newman’s former supervisor, Kanakuk leadership received reports of Newman engaging in nude activities with campers as early as 1999. Newman’s supervisor recommended he be terminated in 2003 after receiving reports that Newman swam and played basketball with children while nude, but this was not enacted by CEO Joe White, according to the lawsuit. Newman remained employed for six more years.
In the recent cross-claim, Kanakuk argues that if they had prior knowledge, the failure to disclose was the fault of their insurer.
A cross-claim is a claim brought by a party against a co-party — in this instance, one of the defendants, Kanakuk, against another defendant, ACE Insurance.
According to the recent filing, Kanakuk in June 2010 “drafted two letters with information regarding Newman’s activities” and planned to email them to “approximately 8,000 families of Kanakuk campers.”
But when Kanakuk sent the letters to the insurance company, ACE allegedly threatened to deny the camp coverage.
“Such disclosures threaten to expose Kanakuk to greater liability,” an ACE adjuster purportedly warned Kanakuk in a letter that month, as quoted in the cross-claim, “and may interfere with ACE’s contractual right to defend claims and to have Kanakuk’s cooperation in that defense.”
“We strongly advise that you refrain from disseminating the proposed public disclosures about Mr. Newman’s misconduct at camp and Kanakuk’s response to that conduct,” the insurance adjuster continued, as quoted in the filing.
Neither the attorney for ACE nor a representative from their parent company was available for comment.
Kanakuk stated via email that they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
“In the meantime,” Kanakuk wrote, “we continue to pray for all who have been impacted by Pete Newman’s actions.”
Brian Kent, an attorney representing Yandell, said the cross-claim supports the argument that the camp and insurance company colluded to mislead victims.
“This was both parties acting together to deceive the victims, despite their awareness of Pete Newman’s abusive history,” Kent said.
“It’s extremely regrettable that a company as substantial as ACE and a camp responsible for the safety of countless children over many years,” Kent stated, “opted to lie to individuals and families who endured something horrific in an attempt to preserve money and their reputation.”
“It’s an additional layer of abuse,” Kent remarked.
He added that in Yandell’s case, the camp’s CEO Joe White “explicitly lied” to Yandell’s parents about whether leadership was aware of Newman’s actions prior to Yandell’s abuse.
Kanakuk’s cross-claim will be contested in the same lawsuit as Yandell’s, but as a separate issue. Discovery for Yandell’s claims is ongoing, Kent mentioned. The trial is set for January 2025.
(Photo submitted via Missouri Independent)