St. Paul archdiocese sues insurance companies

Cathedral of Saint Paul
The Cathedral of Saint Paul Friday, June 6, 2014, in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News file

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Tuesday it is suing some 20 insurance companies to try to force them to cover its liabilities for clergy sex abuse claims.

The complaint, filed Monday in federal court, says the carriers provided liability coverage to the archdiocese going back to the late 1940s through 1986, but have not agreed yet to contribute toward a broad settlement that it's now trying to reach in over two dozen lawsuits and numerous other claims filed by people who say they were sexually abused by priests.

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The suit asks the court to order the carriers to cover the claims and the archdiocese's legal fees.

"So far, we have not been able to reach a global resolution with all the insurance companies," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. "To that end, I approved the filing of a federal lawsuit in hopes the move will encourage the insurance companies to join with us in working together to help us achieve an equitable settlement for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse."

Lauren Lonergan, an attorney for the archdiocese, said she would not go as far as saying the insurance companies are refusing to pay. But she said there are "a lot of complicated coverage issues" on which they haven't agreed.

"Sometimes, as we do in this case, you need assistance from the court to resolve these issues in order to get a prompt resolution," Lonergan said.

But attorney Jeff Anderson, who filed most of the lawsuits on behalf of victims, said the archdiocese's lawsuit demonstrates "that the insurance companies are taking a hard line and playing hardball with the archdiocese."

Anderson said the archdiocese faces significant exposure from the more than two dozen lawsuits his firm has filed since the state opened up a temporary window in the statute of limitations, plus many more notices of claim that have not yet become lawsuits. He said the carriers' move is one he's seen many times in the numerous other lawsuits he's filed on behalf of clergy sex abuse victims.

"The insurance companies are going to have to save the archdiocese's bacon and for that to happen there has to be a legal determination that they need to step up," Anderson said.