Pa. Insurers Cleared of Murder Spree Claims

October 19, 2004

Two insurance companies are not obligated to pay claims for a shooting rampage that left five people dead and another critically injured four years ago near Pittsburgh, a Superior Court panel recently ruled.

The ruling means that Richard Baumhammers’s parents, who owned the insurance policies, may be asked to pay millions of dollars out of their own pockets if it is shown that they were negligent because they knew their son was mentally ill and owned a weapon.

Baumhammers, an unemployed attorney, was living with his parents when he walked out of his Mount Lebanon home on April 28, 2000, and shot his Jewish neighbor, two Indian men, two men of Asian descent and a black man.

He was convicted and sentenced to death for targeting his victims because of their religious or ethnic background.

The argument before the panel of three judges focused on whether the shooting should be considered an accident.

The decision is likely to be challenged by perhaps all of the plaintiffs who have filed suit and also by the parents of Richard Baumhammers, said Richard Tucker, an attorney for the Baumhammers.

“From the parents’ point of view, this was an accident,” Tucker said. “They didn’t act intentionally and they did not expect what happened that day.”

Donegal Mutual Insurance Co. was cleared because none of the six shootings was “an occurrence” as defined in the Baumhammers’ policy, the court ruled. The United Services Automobile Association was dismissed from the case because of an exclusion in the policy.

Attorneys for victims of the shootings did not immediately return calls Thursday, nor did officials with the insurance companies.

Baumhammers killed his Jewish next-door neighbor, Anita Gordon, 63, and then drove through the Pittsburgh area targeting minorities.

Also killed were Anil Thakur, 31, an Indian man; two Asian men, Ji-Ye Sun, 34, of Churchill, and Thao Pham, 27, of Castle Shannon, at a Chinese restaurant; and Garry Lee, 22, a black man from Aliquippa, at a Beaver County karate school.

Sandip Patel, another Indian man, was wounded while working at the store where Thakur was killed. He was paralyzed.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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