An insurance company has sued Jerry Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, seeking a court decision that their homeowner's policy does not provide coverage for his criminal defense or lawsuits by his victims.
State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Thursday, arguing that the homeowner's policy issued to the retired Penn State assistant football coach does not cover claims for injuries covered by intentional acts.
Insurance industry experts say such lawsuits are not unusual in cases in which there is a question of whether a person's actions are intentional.
"You are covered under your homeowner's policy for negligent acts, which a lot of people don't realize," said Scott Cooper, an attorney with the Harrisburg law firm Schmidt Kramer. "Until the insurance company gets a judgment that this was intentional, they have to provide coverage."
Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts related to the sexual abuse of 10 young boys over the course of 15 years. The cost of his defense by two attorneys during the two-week trial and the preceding seven months likely ran into tens of thousands of dollars.
According to State Farm's complaint, Sandusky asked the company to cover the cost of his criminal defense, but State Farm refused.
Sandusky is also a defendant in a lawsuit in Philadelphia County Court by Travis Weaver, an Ohio man who alleges that Sandusky molested him in the early 1990s.
That lawsuit, filed late last year, has been submitted to State Farm for the insurance company to defend against, according to State Farm's lawsuit.
Although the insurance company has assigned a Philadelphia attorney to defend Sandusky, it claims that it has no duty to defend or indemnify him under the homeowner's policy.
Two more of Sandusky's victims have filed notices in Philadelphia County Court that they intend to sue, and at least four others have hired lawyers.
James Haggerty, who represented insurance companies in similar claims for more than 30 years, said filing a so-called declaratory judgment action is a strategic move to preclude increased liability down the road.
"The companies make, for lack of a better term, a pre-emptive strike," Haggerty said.
Federal Insurance Co. -- which insures The Second Mile, the charity that Sandusky founded to help disadvantaged kids -- filed a similar claim against Sandusky in December.
If State Farm were to deny coverage outright, Sandusky would be able to file a claim that the company had acted in bad faith. That would potentially make the company liable for damages in addition to claims by Sandusky's victims.
"They don't want to sit back and wait. They want to get this resolved up-front, so they don't have any potential liabilities lurking out there," said Haggerty of the law firm Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith in Philadelphia.
Although Sandusky has not filed a response to the State Farm claim, Cooper said Sandusky may try to argue that he committed the crimes because of a mental disorder and that they were not intentional acts.
During trial, Sandusky's attorneys presented the testimony of a psychologist who said Sandusky exhibited signs of histrionic personality disorder, which explained his emotional letters to one of the boys he was convicted of molesting.
"He's going to say there is some language in the policy that makes it so that it's not an intentional result," Cooper said.
An attorney for State Farm declined to comment