Kanakuk Kamps is suing ACE American Insurance Co. for “breach of contract and fiduciary duty” and “bad faith refusal” to defend the company in the lawsuit brought against Kanakuk by Logan Yandell last November.
Kanakuk alleges ACE withheld pertinent information from victims of sexual abuse, including Yandell, during the negotiation and settlement of their claims.
Ministry Watch broke the news of the new litigation in one of the most high-profile sexual abuse cases currently being litigated. Kanakuk is one of the largest independent faith-based camps in the nation. It is based near Branson, Mo.
In November 2022, Yandell filed a petition for fraud against Kanakuk Kamps over a settlement he made with the company in 2010. According to Yandell, Kanakuk leadership claimed they were unaware of sexual abuses that occurred between 2003 and 2008 by Peter Newman, former camp counselor. However, incident reports filed throughout the years of Newman’s employment at Kanakuk indicate leadership was aware of his sexual misconduct with children dating back to 1999, four years prior to Yandell’s first year attending camp.
During his original settlement, like many other victims of sexual abuse at Kanakuk, Yandell signed a non-disclosure agreement that barred him from discussing the case. Yandell claims the agreement was based on false information and a subsequent misrepresentation of Kanakuk Kamps.
One year into the lawsuit with Yandell, Kanakuk Kamps is now making a crossclaim against its insurer, alleging the company “orchestrated, directed and assumed complete control over the negotiation and settlement of Plaintiff Yandell’s claims.”
Kanakuk’s crossclaim alleges camp leadership was, indeed, aware of the sexual abuse claimed by Yandell and other victims but it was ACE American Insurance Co. that lied to victims about the company’s knowledge of history of abuse. Kanakuk Kamps also claims ACE discouraged and prevented the company from sending information about sexual abuse to families.
According to the lawsuit, ACE adjuster Marilyn Cannon “strongly recommended” Kankuk not send out public disclosures of Newman’s sexual misconduct due to the increased exposure to liability it may have caused Kanakuk Kamps. She also advised that such a disclosure might “interfere with ACE’s contractual right to defend claims” against Kanakuk.
When Yandell filed his lawsuit in 2022, ACE did not defend Kanakuk because the claims of fraud brought against the camp were not covered by their policy. But Kanakuk is now claiming ACE committed fraud because ACE was in control of negotiation and settlement and chose to withhold pertinent information.
Thus, the debate now is not about whether sexual abuse happened at Kanakuk. It is not even about whether Kanakuk leadership was aware of the abuse occurring on their property. It is about discovering who is responsible for lying to victims and their families to reach a legal settlement.
The debate now is about discovering who is responsible for lying to victims and their families to reach a legal settlement.
Despite their claims that ACE was preventing them from speaking out about the abuses happening at their summer camps, what is undeniably true is that Kanakuk Kamps leadership was aware of this violence long before action was taken to prevent it, and Peter Newman was trusted to be alone with children long after they knew about his tendency to engage in sexual misconduct.
Whether they were pressured into silence about the crimes or not, these claims still do not explain Kanakuk’s failure to hold Newman accountable for his sexually inappropriate misconduct. According to Joe White, CEO of Kanakuk Kamps, and other members of Kanakuk leadership, Newman was a popular camp counselor.
Despite misconduct, multiple superiors of Newman’s failed to terminate him as an employee to prevent abuse from continuing. They describe incidents between him and campers as “improper” and “immature.” And although his actions constituted violations of the employee handbook, Newman never was punished or terminated, apparently because of his popularity and positive reviews.
The disciplinary actions he received for his misconduct centered on protecting Newman, ensuring he “never places himself in a compromising position” in which his integrity might be questioned. In fact, he was given a promotion not long after an incident in which he was found nude four-wheeling with at least one child on Kanakuk property in the winter of 2000.
According to a March 2021 article from the Dispatch, when Joe White or other members of leadership did interact with victims or their families, they stressed that victims forgive their abusers. Many victims also were offered free camp experiences; some were offered money to pay for counseling.
And according to accounts from victims and their families, Kanakuk leadership never treated the incidents like the crimes they were. One victim’s father recalls White describing the abuse as “no big deal” and “childhood experimentation” rather than sexual abuse or violence.
But as the violence became more public, parents and campers were angry that Kanakuk Kamps failed to resolve the issue before so many children were abused.