Do You Need Union Membership to Protect From Lawsuits?
1. WHAT IS PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY INSURANCE, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A student gets hurt on a field trip, or breaks a bone during gym class. Another accuses a teacher of inappropriate touching or advances, or not meeting special education needs. Such lawsuits can be career kryptonite for educators, but professional liability insurance offers protection by covering the court costs needed to defend a teacher and, if necessary, damages.
Liability protection for teachers begins with state law. Pennsylvania’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act protects school districts and teachers against damages on account of any injury to a person or property. However, there are exceptions, such as injury caused by dilapidated school buildings and damages caused by a school-owned vehicle, such as a bus or van. In these cases, the law requires districts to defend and protect teachers acting within their job description.
School districts purchase General Liability coverage to protect teachers for actions performed in their scope of duties. For example, the 41 Pennsylvania school districts insured by Willis, a major insurance provider for schools, offer coverage for bodily injury including corporal punishment, property damage, libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and sexual abuse, according to Willis Executive Vice President Reid Sandner.
According to education law expert Michael Levin, school district General Liability policies are fairly standardized, and nearly all districts carry Errors & Omission policies, which vary. Errors & Omissions coverage provides for wrongful acts such as neglect, misleading statements or omission, and civil rights claims such as discrimination, employment-related claims, and failure to educate.
Most district plans also cover legal fees associated with legal claims against teachers. Check with your local district for specific coverage information.
2. UNION PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY INSURANCE PROVIDED TO MEMBERS IS REDUNDANT AND LARGELY UNNECESSARY.
Only teachers who plan on committing a crime will need the union’s additional liability insurance.
The National Education Association, for example, purchases additional liability insurance for full union members across the country at $10.6 million, about $3.37 per educator. According to the NEA’s insurance policy brochure, coverage doesn’t kick in until school district coverage is exhausted. Even the NEA acknowledges its $1 million liability policy is excess coverage in its certificate of insurance: “This policy is specifically excess over coverage provided by school district or school board errors and omissions or general liability policies purchased by the insured’s employer. . .”
NEA’s education liability policy reimburses for criminal proceedings (a teacher would have to fund their defense up front) up to $35,000, but only if he or she is exonerated. The policy also offers up to $1,000 for bail bond.
3. MOST EDUCATORS WILL NEVER NEED ADDITIONAL UNION LIABILITY INSURANCE.
Teachers should not worry about losing NEA coverage because of the many protections already afforded to teachers by the school district and most states, according to the Chair of Fox Rothschild LLP’s Education Law Group, Jeffrey T. Sultanik. The only extra protection afforded to teachers through the NEA is reimbursement for court costs in a criminal proceeding. And even then a district may defend the teacher since the district may be liable for costs if the teacher is found guilty.
Generally speaking, only teachers who intend to commit a crime or carry out intentional wrongdoing should seek additional union liability insurance. Even then, the liability insurance provided under non-union associations such as the Association of American Educators and the Keystone Teachers Association offer double the coverage: $2 million per member, per occurrence for $15-$33 per month compared to at least $56 per month in PSEA union dues.