Insurance company asserts no duty to defend in priest abuse suits

By Bethany Krajelis | Jan 7, 2013


A  pair of St. Clair County lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by a former priest has spurred a battle over insurance coverage.

TIG Insurance Company on Monday filed a complaint in federal court, seeking declaratory judgment that it doesn’t have a duty to defend the Diocese of Belleville or former priest Raymond Kownacki in the underlying suits.

Brought by John Doe S.W. in 2011 and John Doe S. in July 2012, the two separate suits accuse Kownacki of sexual abuse in the 1980s, when they were both minors attending St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Valmeyer.

Kownacki, who is retired and lives in St. Louis, was removed from the ministry in the mid-90s after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were lodged against him.

Although the alleged abuse was reported, the plaintiffs in the two suits claim that the diocese didn’t discipline Kownacki and instead transferred him to a different parish after an allegation was made.

In the complaint for declaratory judgment, TIG claims that it does not have a duty to defend the diocese or Kownacki under the policy it issued to the diocese for the period between Dec. 31, 1986 and Dec. 1, 1987.

Under the policy, TIG agreed to pay all sums the diocese became legally obligated to pay as damages because of “bodily injury” caused by an “occurrence” and committed by the diocese in the conduct of clergy activities.

The insurance company contends that the claims in the underlying suits do not meet the definitions of “bodily injury” and “occurrence” as defined.

It further asserts that the policy includes exemptions for “bodily injury” resulting from sexual misconduct and child molestation.

The policy defines “bodily injury” as “bodily injury, sickness or disease sustained by a person” and “occurrence” as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.”

TIG further asserts that it is relieved from defending Kownacki and the diocese because they breached notice requirements of the policy.

Kownacki, according to the complaint, never notified TIG of the claims while the diocese did so in September, when it sought defense and indemnification.

Both John Doe S.W. and John Doe S. are named as defendants in the suit, but TIG said it does not seek any specific relief against them and only included them as defendants because they might have an interest in the outcome of the suit.

The insurance company noted that it would dismiss the two men as defendants if they agree to be bound the judgment in this action.

Timothy Muehleisen of SmithAmundsen in St. Louis submitted the complaint on TIG's behalf, along with his colleagues, Heather Bub, Timothy Fagan and Rachael Winthrop.

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