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Missouri Christian camp blames insurance company for its choice to withhold info on sexual abuse

A boy in his early teens stands the bottom of a highly decorated outdoor concrete staircase. He is wearing a windbreaker and backpack.
Courtesy Photo
Logan Yandell, pictured in 2009, was sexually abused at Kanakuk Kamps from by its former director, Peter Newman. Yandell's family settled with the camp in 2010 — the subject of an ongoing lawsuit

Kanakuk Kamps alleges its insurance company discouraged camp leadership from disclosing information about sex abuser to families.

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 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 tricked 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 were to disclose the abuse of 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 argues, “….such damages were caused by [ACE American Insurance Co.] and not by Kanakuk.”

Yandell called Kanakuk’s argument, “blame-shifting.”

“Our lawsuit has forced them to tell the truth, but instead of actually taking accountability…they’re trying to shift the blame to their insurance company as if an insurance company, I mean, held a gun to their head,” he said in an interview Monday. “An insurance company doesn’t make them do anything.”

The underlying case revolves around the abuse of Yandell, now 28, who sued the camp — one of the largestChristian summer camps in the country — along with its insurance company.

The case hinges on whether Kanakuk leadership knew 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 told the family they hadn’t known about the abuse and deemed it an isolated incident, according to the complaint.

But if the family had learned of camp leadership’s prior knowledge of Newman’s sexual misconduct, Yandell’s lawsuit says, they wouldn’t have agreed to it.

A man in his 20s wearing a ballcap holds two bouquets of pink and orange flowers.
Courtesy Photo
Logan Yandell, now 28, is suing Kanakuk.

Newman, who 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 might be in the hundreds.

Yandell’s lawsuit cites evidence that Kanakuk did know of Newman’s behavior earlier: According to an affidavit of Newman’s former supervisor, Kanakuk leadership received reports of Newman engaged in nude activity with campers as early as 1999. Newman’s supervisor recommended he be fired in 2003, after receiving reports that Newman swam and played basketball with children while he was nude, but that decision was not taken up by CEO Joe White, according to the lawsuit. Newman stayed on for six more years.

In the recent cross claim, Kanakuk argues that if they did have advanced knowledge, the lack of disclosure was the fault of their insurer.

A cross claim is a claim brought by a party against their co-party — in this case, one of the defendants, Kanakuk, versus 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 threatened to deny the camp coverage.

“Such disclosures threaten to expose Kanakuk to greater liability,” an ACE adjuster allegedly told 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 recommend that you do not send out 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 could be reached for comment.

Kanakuk said by email that they do not comment on litigation.

“In the meantime,” Kanakuk wrote, “we continue to pray for all who have been affected by Pete Newman’s behavior.”

Brian Kent, one of the attorneys representing Yandell, said the cross claim supports the argument that the camp and insurance company acted in a “concerted effort to misrepresent information to 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 large as ACE and a camp which had responsibility for the safety of thousands and thousands of children over so many years,” Kent said, “just chose, in order to just try to save money and try to save their reputation, to lie to individuals and families who had been through something horrific.”

“It’s abuse upon abuse,” Kent said.

He added that in Yandell’s case, the camp’s CEO Joe White “flat-out lied” to Yandell’s parents regarding whether leadership knew about Newman’s behavior prior to Yandell’s abuse.

Kanakuk’s cross claim will be litigated in the same lawsuit as Yandell’s, but as a separate claim. Discovery is underway for Yandell’s claims, Kent said. Trial is scheduled for January 2025.

This story was originally published in the Missouri Independent.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and is a Report for America corps member.
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