Alaska Supreme Court may hear insurance case stemming from Juneau shooting

A lawsuit stemming from a fatal shooting amongst a group of Juneau teenagers almost four years ago appears headed for the Alaska Supreme Court. A deadline was set for late February for the attorneys to attempt a settlement and the voluminous case file is already on its way for review by justices. No date has been set yet for oral arguments.

14-year old Aiden Neary was killed and Chase Schneider, also 14 at the time, was injured when 15-year old Kevin Michaud fired a gun that he took from a locked cabinet. Two other boys at the Michaud family home in the valley were in a different room and did not witness the shooting.

Michaud in July of 2009 was sentenced to two years in a juvenile facility for criminally negligent homicide and assault. He was originally charged with second degree murder in December of 2008.

The parents of Neary and Schneider filed suit against the Michaud family, First Student bus company, and United Services Automobile Association (USAA) which was the Michaud’s homeowners insurance carrier.

A trial in the case was scheduled for last April. Then a closed-door settlement conference was held last May before former Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins. Terms were not disclosed. Sitka Superior Court Judge David George issued a final judgment in December and presided over a subsequent hearing on January 6th for possibly apportioning the settlement from USAA. He closed the hearing and asked a reporter who was present to leave because essentially Schneider was still a juvenile. But that was after Judge George openly mentioned that the settlement could be “at least 300-thousand dollars, perhaps much higher.”

Electronic court records indicate that $366,435.88 in settlement funds were deposited with the court system in December and then disbursed in February to a trust account held by the law firm representing the Schneiders.

According to court documents, the dispute under appeal is only between the insurance company and the victim’s families. It centers on interpretations of each ‘occurrence’ specified in the Michaud’s insurance policy and the number of claims that would be covered. Essentially, would an occurrence include the single firing of a weapon? Or were there two separate occurrences of a single bullet striking two different boys? Attorneys for the Schneiders and Nearys claim it’s the latter and they dispute a ruling that was issued by Judge George last June that preferred the former interpretation.

All of the attorneys involved in the case – representing plantiffs, intervenors, and defendants – either declined to answer questions about the case or did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Among the earlier arguments made by plantiff’s attorneys was whether First Student had a contractual duty to make sure that Juneau-Douglas High School students Neary and Schneider got off at their own bus stops, instead of Michaud’s. But First Student did not remain as a defendant in the case.