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Insurance company doesn't owe victim in 2013 shooting at Britton

PIERRE -- The South Dakota Supreme Court has agreed insurance benefits weren't owed to a young man who had been shot in the head with a handgun by another student.

PIERRE - The South Dakota Supreme Court has agreed insurance benefits weren't owed to a young man who had been shot in the head with a handgun by another student.

The incident occurred while they were in the shooter's pickup truck in the Britton-Hecla High School parking lot three years ago.

The court said in a decision released Thursday that the shooter, Dusty Groom, wasn't covered under his grandmother's insurance policy.

The reason: He didn't live in the same house as his grandmother, Bonnie Buhl.

Groom and his mother, Tammy Groom, claimed they were covered. They lived in a house owned by Buhl on Buhl's farm property between Britton and Lake City. Tammy Groom is Buhl's adult daughter.

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Buhl and her husband, Jerome, lived in another house that wasn't on the farm property.

The insurance policy covered Buhl's land and the house where the Grooms lived, and also covered Buhl's spouse and any relatives who lived in the same residence as Buhl.

The residency provision meant the Grooms weren't covered by the $1 million liability protection of the policy.

As the shooter, Dusty Groom had previously agreed to pay $1.1 million to the victim, Brody Heitmann, and assigned the insurance benefits to Heitmann.

American Family Insurance Mutual Insurance refused to pay Heitmann, however. Circuit Judge Carmen Means agreed with the insurance company.

The Supreme Court in turn agreed unanimously the judge was correct.

Justice Janine Kern wrote the court's opinion, declaring the policy "unambiguous" that Dusty and Tammy Groom needed to live with Buhl to be covered by her insurance.

"The phrase 'if residents of your household' means that Buhl's relatives must be residents of Buhl's household," the justice said.

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A footnote in the decision added:

"The Policy does not define household. Nor has this Court defined the term.

"A review of cases from other jurisdictions reveals that courts have held that an insured can have more than one household for insurance contract purposes and the phrase resident of the household has no fixed meaning."

Heitmann was 17 at the time of the May 1, 2013, shooting. He returned to school one week later.

Groom, 18 at the time, was expelled after the shooting. The weapon was a .22 caliber handgun.

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