A Branson-area Christian summer camp accused of covering up years of sexual abuse of its students is suing its insurance company, alleging it threatened to deny coverage if information about the abuse became public.
Kanakuk Kamps filed a counterclaim last month against ACE American Insurance Co. as part of a 2022 lawsuit filed by a former camper who claimed his family was tricked into signing a “fraudulent” settlement agreement after he was sexually abused by a camp director.
The insurance company “threatened to deny coverage to Kanakuk” if the camp disclosed to the families the abuse of former director Peter Newman, Kanakuk’s lawyers allege in the counterclaim.
If the former camper, Logan Yandell, “suffered damages as alleged,” Kanakuk’s counterclaim alleges, “…such damages were caused by [ACE American Insurance Co.] and not from Kanakuk.
Yandel called Kanakuk’s argument “blame shifting.”
“Our lawsuit forced them to tell the truth, but instead of actually taking responsibility … they’re trying to shift the blame to their insurance company, as if an insurance company, I mean, put a gun to their head,” he said in an interview Monday. “The insurance company doesn’t make them do anything.”
The main case revolves around the abuse of Yandell, now 28, who is suing the camp — one of the largest Christian summer camps in the country — along with its insurance company.
The case hinges on whether Kanakuk management knew in advance that Newman was abusing campers.
Yandell was sexually abused from about 2005 to 2008 by Newman. His family settled for a confidential settlement in 2010 and signed a nondisclosure agreement after camp management told the family they were unaware of the abuse and considered it an isolated incident, according to the complaint.
But if the family had learned that camp management had prior knowledge of Newman’s sexual behavior, Yandel’s lawsuit says, they would not have gone along with it.
Newman, whom Kanakuk calls a “master of deception” on his website, pleaded guilty in 2010 to seven counts of sexual assault and is serving two consecutive life sentences plus thirty years. The prosecutor in his case estimated that the number of Newman’s victims could be in the hundreds.
Yandel’s lawsuit cites evidence that Kanakuk did know about Newman’s behavior earlier: According to an affidavit from Newman’s former supervisor, Kanakuk management received reports of Newman engaging in nudity with campers as early as 1999. Newman recommended that he be fired in 2003 after receiving reports that Newman swam and played basketball with children while naked, but that decision was not made by CEO Joe White, according to the lawsuit. Newman stayed another six years.
In the recent cross-suit, Kanakuk argued that if they had advanced knowledge, the lack of disclosure was the fault of their insurer.
A cross-claim is a claim brought by one party against the other party—in this case, one defendant, Kanakuk, against another defendant, ACE Insurance.
According to the recent filing, Kanakuk in June 2010 “drafted two letters of 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 threatened to deny coverage to the camp.
“Such disclosures threaten to expose Kanakuk to greater liability,” ACE’s regulator allegedly told Kanakuk in a letter from the same month, as cited in the counterclaim, “and may interfere with ACE’s contractual right to defend claims and to have Kanakuk’s cooperation in this defense.”
“We strongly recommend against submitting the proposed public disclosures about Mr. Newman’s misconduct at the camp and Kanakuk’s response to that conduct,” the insurance regulator continued, as quoted in the filing.
Neither ACE’s attorney nor a representative of their parent company could be reached for comment.
Kanakuk said via email that he does not comment on litigation.
“In the meantime,” Kanakuk wrote, “we continue to pray for all who have been affected by Pete Newman’s conduct.”
Brian Kent, one of the attorneys representing Yandell, said the counterclaim supports the argument that the camp and the insurance company acted in a “concerted effort to misrepresent the victims.”
“This was both parties acting together to defraud the victims despite their knowledge of Pete Newman’s abusive history,” Kent said.
“It’s just incredibly unfortunate that a company as big as ACE and a camp that has been responsible for the safety of thousands and thousands of children for so many years,” Kent said, “just chose to try to save money and try to save their reputations, to lie to people and families who have experienced something horrific.
“It’s abuse after abuse,” Kent said.
He added that in Yandell’s case, camp CEO Joe White “outright lied” to Yandell’s parents about whether management knew about Newman’s behavior prior to Yandell’s abuse.
Kanakuk’s cross-claim will be heard in the same case as Yandell’s, but as a separate claim. Discovery is underway on Yandell’s allegations, Kent said. The case is scheduled for January 2025.
This story was originally published in Missouri Independent.