Pennsylvania Court Rules Parents’ Homeowners Policy Covers Shootings by Son

February 23, 2006

An insurance company might have to pay $1.8 million if the lone survivor and relatives of five other victims of a shooting spree win lawsuits against the attacker’s parents, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled.

Donegal Mutual Insurance Co. would have to pay the amount under a homeowners policy held by Andrejs and Inese Baumhammers that covers the actions of their son Richard, who fatally shot five people and wounded another.

The court ruled that the parents’ alleged negligence in not taking away their son’s gun or alerting mental health authorities to his dangerous tendencies constitued an accident that led to the six shootings. The appeals court said in a unanimous decision that each of the six shootings qualifies as a separate “occurrence” under the terms of the homeowners policy, which is limited to payments of $300,000 per occurrence. The Donnegal policy covered the Baumhammers plus any relative who was a resident of their household.

The same court ruled that a second policy held by the Baumhammers and underwritten by United Services Automobile Association contained a relevant exclusion for criminal acts so USAA would not have to pay.

Richard Baumhammers, an unemployed attorney, was living with his parents when he reportedly 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 second USAA “umbrella” policy, which would pay out $5 million for each occurrence, does not cover family members in connection with the shootings, the court ruled.

The decision comes after Donegal Insurance was dismissed in 2004 from six lawsuits filed by the families of the five deceased victims and the lone survivor because none of the shootings was considered an “occurrence.”

This Superior Court appeal delayed resolution of the victims’ lawsuits.

Baumhammers, 40, 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.

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