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Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch sues insurance providers after claims were denied in sex abuse cases

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and its founders are suing several insurance providers for failure to provide defense coverage on claims related to a trio of sexual abuse allegations made in lawsuits filed under New York State’s Child Victims Act.

In a complaint filed in state Supreme Court last month and transferred to federal court Monday, the Riverhead group home for at-risk youths argued that policies in place at the time of the alleged incidents, and other policies put into place last year, should have covered the claims.

“As with all contracts, a contract of insurance contains an implied covenant of good faith,” the nonprofit wrote in a complaint filed by attorney Scott Kreppein of the Smithtown firm Devitt Spellman Barrett. “If a complaint contains any facts or allegations which bring the claim even potentially within the protection purchased, the insurer is obligated to defend.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order to require the defendants — Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company, Great American Insurance Company and Financial & Professional Risk Solutions, Inc. — to cover the costs of the ranch’s defense in all three cases as well as damages for a breach of contract.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch said it had a policy with a company that was a division of Financial & Professional Risk Solutions, Inc. —  which has since been acquired by Great American Insurance Company — at the time of all three incidents alleged in the civil suits filed last year, according to the complaint. It also said it had policies with Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company that “expressly included coverage for sexual, or physical abuse or molestation vicarious liability.” The Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company policies provided coverage beginning in June 2019, four months after the Child Victims Act was signed into law and two months before it went into effect.

“PIIC has failed and refused to provide or pay the cost of defense of [all three lawsuits],” the complaint states.

An attorney for Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company could not be immediately reached for comment Tuessday.

Great American Insurance Company also denied coverage of the claims, stating it could not locate a record of policy of insurance for the ranch, according to the complaint. An attorney is not yet listed for Great American Insurance in Eastern District Court of New York records.

The Child Victims Act established a one-year window for some survivors of child sex abuse whose statute of limitations had run out to pursue civil cases against people alleged to have committed child sexual abuse in the past. That window has since been extended to Jan. 14, 2021, due to COVID-19.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch was named as a defendant in three lawsuits filed between September and November 2019. In each case, a former resident said they were physically and sexually abused by older boys at the ranch as a result of poor supervision. The alleged incidents took place between 1981 and 1995, according to the complaints. All three former residents are represented by attorney Regina Calcaterra of the New York law firm Calcaterra-Pollack.

Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho ruled last October that eight young men he had placed at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead would no longer be required to stay there.

“For the record, based on certain allegations that have been made known to the court very recently, these defendants who are participants in the youth part are no longer mandated to stay at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch,” the judge said, according to a transcript of the ruling.

Any children who chose to leave were to be placed at another facility, a court spokesperson said at the time.

The ranch was founded in 1976 by Fern and Jerrell Hill and began operation in 1980 with the objective of using “Christ-centered values” to help reform “dependent, neglected and abused” boys. It is named for their late son, who is said to have wanted to “build a place where troubled kids could live, be loved, feel safe, and have wide open spaces to ride horses,” according to the ranch website. Aside from the Middle Road residential center, the ranch operates a pair of retreat locations in Tennessee and Massachusetts.