Metro-East News

Freeburg school fights insurers for coverage in sex abuse suit

Former Freeburg Elementary District 70 Superintendent Rob Hawkins.
Former Freeburg Elementary District 70 Superintendent Rob Hawkins. Provided

The Freeburg school district’s insurer has already paid more than $5.6 million to settle four lawsuits arising from alleged sexual abuse of students by former superintendent Rob Hawkins.

A fifth case is pending, but the district’s insurers are denying coverage.

RSUI Indemnity says its policy specifically excludes coverage for sexual abuse claims. And Country Mutual is claiming they didn’t insure the district at the time the abuse is alleged to have happened.

“If we get a verdict and there is no coverage, the district will have to pay in whatever way they can, just as any other entity would,” said Mike Weilmuenster, the attorney for the fifth plaintiff. “They will have to go into their assets, sell real estate holdings or do a tax levy.”

The fifth plaintiff alleges that Hawkins, who committed suicide, sexually abused him when the plaintiff was an elementary school student.

Heidi Eckert, the district’s attorney, and Weilmuenster noted that in the four previous cases, the insurance companies initially denied coverage, but, after a court fight, were forced to provide coverage. The cases settled soon after that.

The fifth lawsuit had been set to go to trial in November, but was continued until April.

The plaintiff in the case alleges that he was in seventh and eighth grades in 2007 to 2009 when Hawkins sexually abused him on numerous occasions during the school day and during extracurricular activities.

If we get a verdict and there is no coverage, the district will have to pay in whatever way they can, just as any other entity would. They will have to go into their assets, sell real estate holdings or do a tax levy.

Mike Weilmuenster, attorney for plaintiff

The lawsuit alleges that “before Hawkins initiated the sexual grooming, sexual harassment and sexual abuse ... Hawkins engaged in a course of misconduct including sexual grooming, sexual harassment and sexual abuse of numerous other minor male students, and these circumstances were described and reported to the Freeburg School District by various individuals.”

A Freeburg police report stated that in 1991, Hawkins took a male elementary school student into the boys locker room, wrapped an elastic bandage around his hand and eyes, then fondled him and performed oral sex on the minor. Hawkins was never charged with a sex crime.

The abuse dated back decades, beginning in 1980 and continuing until 2009 when the student reported being abused. Illinois State Police were contacted. During the investigation, Hawkins was found sitting in a 1964 Mustang convertible in a barn on his property near Belleville. The cause of his death was found to be suicide by carbon monoxide asphyxiation.

“We don’t know of any more victims or potential plaintiffs,” Eckert said. “If we did, we would notify the insurance company.”

A decision in the battle of insurance coverage might not be quick in coming. The case is set for a status conference on Nov. 10 before St. Clair County Associate Judge Steve Rice.

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

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