This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A federal judge has ruled that an LDS bishop's personal insurance policies and not the church were responsible to pay the claims of a woman injured when she fell from a zip line at a ward singles event at the bishop's home.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. had a contractual obligation to defend Kyrt Nay of Mapleton, who was bishop of the BYU 31st Singles Ward in 2008.
Martha Jean Miller, a ward member, sued Nay and the church after she fell 15 feet from a zip line set up at Nay's home for a ward function.
Nay failed to have a mechanism for attaching participants to the zip line and Miller suffered permanent and debilitating injuries as a result of her fall, according to her lawsuit. She incurred more than $400,000 in medical bills and sought $6 million in damages, claiming Nay and the church were both liable for gross negligence.
The church, formally the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, self insures up to $15 million and has an umbrella policy for claims above that amount, according to court documents. Nay had a $100,000 homeowners policy and a $1 million personal liability umbrella policy from State Farm.
State Farm didn't disclose the existence of Nay's personal liability policy until two years into the litigation because, it claimed, the church had primary responsibility to provide coverage.
After that, the church retained an attorney who was independent of State Farm's attorneys to represent Nay. State Farm then agreed to pay Miller the full amount of Nay's policies or $1.1 million, according to the judge's decision. The church also reached a confidential settlement.
State Farm then sued the Corporation of the President in federal court, claiming the insurance company was not responsible for paying Nay's settlement. The church had taken primary responsibility for defending both parties but then hired an attorney for Nay who argued against State Farm's position in the case. The subsequent settlement amounted to "unjust enrichment" by the church because State Farm paid a settlement the church was responsible for, the company argued in its lawsuit.
Kimball, however, said there was no contract between Nay and the church for insurance coverage, as there was with State Farm, which made the company primarily responsible for Miller's claims.
Neither spokespersons for the church nor attorneys for State Farm immediately returned emails seeking comment.