The topic of education employees’ liability is important because the crime and accident rate in the schools appears to be increasing every year. Along with this growth, there has been an even more dramatic increase in the number of legal suits brought against members for injuries to students allegedly caused by the employee’s negligence, assault, and/or abuse of a student.
In the past, parents generally did not bring suit against school employees unless an injury was severe, but this is no longer the case. Parents and students are being made aware of the possibility of litigation and they are increasingly turning to this remedy. A few of the reasons behind this sudden influx of cases stem from a changing attitude toward the education employee’s role by many parents, from a knowledge that employees are being paid more and have insurance coverage available, and from a financial need created by the increasing costs of medical treatment.
Each member receives as part of his or her dues payment a $1,000,000 liability insurance policy. Some of the important provisions of this coverage are listed here. Copies of the complete policy are available from MSEA on request. Members are encouraged to read the policy and should contact the Center for Legal Affairs at MSEA headquarters for additional information regarding the specific coverage provided. MSEA/NEA Benefits Package
Pays all damages which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as a result of any claim arising out of an occurrence or event in the course of the insured’s educational employment activities (subject to the limitations contained in the policy) and caused by any acts or omissions of the insured or any other person for whose acts the insured is legally liable, not to exceed $1,000,000 (other than civil rights issues).
Pays reasonable and necessary costs and attorney’s fees up to $35,000 in defending against criminal charges arising out of a member’s educational employment activities provided that the member is exonerated or the charges are dismissed or withdrawn. In addition to the insurance policy, MSEA pays up to $15,000 for reasonable attorney fees so long as the member uses the attorney provided through MSEA Chief Counsel.
An exception to the general rule stated above is criminal charges arising out of the use of corporal punishment. In such cases all reasonable attorney fees (again up to $35,000) are paid regardless of the outcome of the case and regardless of whether the member uses an MSEA or private attorney.
Pays up to $300,000 per occurrence for legal fees and damages which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as a result of a claim based upon an alleged violation of protected civil rights.
Pays up to $1,000 per bond required of the insured arising out of the insured’s educational employment activities.
Pays up to $500 for damages to or destruction of the insured’s personal property, other than a vehicle, caused by an assault upon the insured on or surrounding school property, or while away from school property on an authorized school activity, to the extent that such damages exceed the coverage provided by any homeowner or similar insurance.
Defends any claim made or criminal proceeding brought against an insured by another employee or former employee of an educational unit if the claim or criminal proceeding arises out of an occurrence in the course of the insured’s educational employment activities as a participant in a peer review system of an educational unit.
Membership in MSEA provides automatic coverage of a $1,000,000 Employment Liability Insurance Policy, which pays legal fees and damages to the limit of the policy for defense of members in certain job-related cases. The policy is described above.
Individual liability insurance is also generally available, although the cost of purchasing it alone (as opposed to through a group) is often prohibitive. Maryland law now requires that local school boards carry
comprehensive liability insurance of at least $100,000 to protect the board, its agents, and employees. This law purports to waive the board’s right to raise the defense of sovereign immunity in any suit in which the
damages are not in excess of the limit of its liability policy, thus allowing parents and others to sue the board itself as well as the individual educator.
Although the board’s policy must cover its agents and employees, there is often qualifying language limiting the coverage of the employees to specific conditions, and the problem arises as to whether the employee was within those specific conditions when the alleged offense occurred. Of course, the board’s policy does not provide any coverage for the employee when the action is one by the board against the educator.