Insurers for the Southern Baptist Convention have agreed to pay $26 million to a South Carolina man who was paralyzed and suffered brain damage in a rollover crash during a 2009 missionary trip in Montana, Attorney Anders Blewett said Tuesday.
The insurance companies agreed to pay the full coverage limits of their policies within days of a judge’s ruling that the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention Inc. was liable for Jeremy Vangsnes’ injuries, Blewett said.
District Judge Mike Salvagni ruled on June 19 that the driver, Scott Minear of Marietta, Georgia, was acting within the course and scope of his association with the mission group at the time of the July 2009 wreck.
Minear, Vangsnes and two of Vangsnes’ brothers – Ryan and Daniel – were returning from a trip to Glacier National Park when the crash happened near Belgrade.
Minear also suffered critical injuries.
The mission group argued the four went to Glacier to meet with members of the Vangsnes’ family. The plaintiffs argued they received permission from a mission leader to go on the trip, and while in Glacier, they continued to discuss their faith with family and others and talked with another person when they stopped in Helena on the return trip.
Salvagni relied on a deposition given by Van Simmons, head of student missionaries for the North American Mission Board. Simmons said those involved in the 10-week recreational missionary program could go home only in the event of a family emergency. They were to represent the North American Mission Board even during their off times, and they were subject to the board’s lifestyle and policy guidelines at all times, Simmons said.
The settlement is not considered an admission of guilt by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, court records said.
At the time of his injury, the 21-year-old Vangsnes was going into his senior year at Coastal Carolina University, where he ran cross country and earned All-America honors.
The family lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where Mark Vangsnes cares for his quadriplegic son.
The settlement will allow them to hire 24-hour skilled nursing care for Jeremy Vangsnes and to buy a house that is more handicapped-accessible, Blewett said.
“Nothing will undo the tragedy that robbed this talented young man of his future, but this money will allow Jeremy to live the fullest life possible,” Blewett said in a statement.
The First Baptist Church of West Yellowstone, which was hosting the missionaries, settled the lawsuit against it for $1 million – the limit of its insurance policy – in 2013, Blewett said.
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