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Insurers ask courts to block coverage in a Rockland case of teen suicide

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Two insurance companies are asking courts to declare that they do not have to defend or indemnify parents whose sons have been accused of assaulting and harassing a teen who later committed suicide.

Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co. and Travelers Commercial Insurance Co. said their homeowners policies exclude coverage for injuries caused by criminal acts or intentional injuries.

The insurers want protection from a lawsuit concerning the death in September 2015 of James “Jimmy” Hauburger, 17, of Orangeburg. His mother, Noreen Hauburger, last July sued four minors and the parents of two of the minors in state Supreme Court in Rockland County. She claims that the minors, identified only by initials in court documents, assaulted Jimmy in July 2015, posted a video recording of the assault on Instagram and threatened him on social media.

The defendants denied the allegations.

Her son suffered pain, psychological and emotional anguish, posttraumatic stress syndrome, fear and ultimately death as a result of bullying, Hauburger alleges.

The lawsuit names the parents of J.B., Mark and Amy Blomquist, of Piermont, and says they had a duty to restrain their son because they knew he had a propensity for violence.

The alleged assault happened at the home of Michael and Anna Szwarc and their son, S.S., in Piermont. Hauburger claims that the Szwarcs, who since moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, provided alcohol to minors and were negligent in supervising them.

Hauburger is asking for unspecified damages for alleged battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Blomquists, Szwarcs, C.D. of Blauvelt and Z.C. of Tappan denied the allegations in court filings. C.D. also filed a counterclaim for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. He states that he was wrongfully named in the lawsuit because he did not perpetrate any of the alleged conduct and does not appear in the video.

The lawsuit suggests that Jimmy was assaulted because J.B. believed Jimmy had informed on him to police. Amy Blomquist was present, it says, when police interviewed her son about an alleged retaliatory act in June 2015.

The following month, according to the lawsuit, the Szwarcs hosted Jimmy and the four minors at their house and provided alcoholic beverages to the youths. The four minors became intoxicated, the lawsuit says, therefore the Szwarcs are liable for injuries caused by their underage guests.

The minors allegedly held Jimmy from behind and punched him in the abdomen. In September 2015, they allegedly posted a video of the incident on Instagram.

J.B., according to the lawsuit, posted three Instagram comments:  “Do I have to snuff you out a second time,” then, “You’ll see me and (Z.C.) in school tomorrow we’ll have you crying a second time,” and finally, “Bruh I don’t need back up neither does Z” and “there’s a video of you crying after I snuffed you with no help do I have to post it.”

Z.C. allegedly posted comments referring to cracking Jimmy’s jaw and calling him offensive names.

Metropolitan insured the Blomquists. The company says the homeowners and excess policies exclude coverage for bodily injuries that result from criminal acts or abuses inflicted by people covered by the policies. Furthermore, suicide is not a personal injury or bodily injury as defined by the policies, according to the insurance company’s lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains on Feb. 8.

Travelers made a similar argument in a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Rockland County on Feb. 10. The company insured the parents of C.D., David and Marybeth Dermody, of Blauvelt, for homeowners and umbrella coverage.

The insurance does not apply to an act which is expected or intended by an insured party to cause bodily injury, Travelers says.

Travelers agreed to retain counsel to defend C.D. But the insurer is asking the court to declare that it does not have to provide coverage in a settlement or judgment and that the Dermodys must reimburse the company for defending their son.

Last year, the Hauburger family set up the Jimmy Hauburger Memorial Foundation to support programs that increase awareness of bullying, emotional distress and teen suicide.

The nonprofit foundation is backing anti-cyberbullying legislation in the state Legislature and has started a scholarship to be given to a graduating senior at Tappan Zee High School who demonstrates kindness to others and to fellow students in need. Jimmy Hauburger was a senior at the school at the time of his death. 

The foundation’s website, jimmyhauburgerfoundation.org, links to resources for parents, educators, teens and the community.

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