Think about this scenario: you are mowing your lawn and an unseen rock is hurled by the mower onto your neighbor’s property. Your neighbor comes over and politely informs you that not only did you damage her house, but the blood on her face from the broken window now requires a trip to the emergency room.
Consider another scenario: you are accused of harassment by a student’s parent.
This article reviews different types of liability insurance every educator should investigate: personal, professional and commercial.
Liability losses occur when someone becomes legally obligated to pay compensation for harm done to someone else. For a liability loss to occur, all of the following conditions must exist:
- There must be some legal principle governing the relationship of the parties.
- Some definite injury has occurred to one of the parties.
- Some wrongful conduct by the other party has led to that injury.
- Either an agreement of the parties or a court judgement has been made holding a party liable and determining the amount of that civil liability, or a court is holding a party criminally responsible.
A basic concept of civil liability (or criminal responsibility) under laws in the United States is that one party must prove that the other party was at fault in their actions and caused the loss or injury for which the law holds them liable or responsible.
Personal liability insurance
Most personal liability risks are covered as part of a comprehensive homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy and a comprehensive automobile insurance policy. If a neighbor slips on your icy walkway, then your home insurance policy will provide liability (and medical) coverage for you and your neighbor.
Professional liability insurance
What if a situation involving you causes property damage or bodily injury while you are at work, either on school grounds or at a school function? Personal liability insurance will not cover that risk—you need professional liability insurance for this purpose.
The NEA has recognized the importance of having such protection—so much so, that the Educators Employment Liability (EEL) insurance policy is just one of many benefits of membership provided at no additional cost to the member. This policy protects you in most instances if a student or a student’s parents sue you. It also reimburses you if your personal property is damaged in assault-related incidents. Coverage applies to legal charges arising out of the member’s educational work, or what under the policy is called, educational employment activities for an educational unit, such as a school or college, in most but not all instances. The basic coverage provided by the EEL policy includes:
Coverage A: Educators liability (civil)
- Payment up to $3 million if 1 member, and up to $9 million if more than 1 member is involved in the situation, for the legal costs of defending civil proceedings brought against a member in the course of their educational employment activities—except in cases that include any civil rights issues or civil rights claims.
- Payment up to $1 million if 1 member, and up to $3 million if more than 1 member, is involved in the situation or instance, from their educational employment activities, that gives rise to civil liability imposed upon the member(s) by a court—except in cases that involve civil rights claims.
- Payment up to $300,000 per member involved in an event that gives rise to civil liability imposed upon the member by a court in cases alleging civil rights violation(s) in the course of their educational employment activities
- Payment up to $5,000 for legal defense in a civil lawsuit against a member where the case involves bodily injury, other than by an EEL-insured, due to fungus, mold, mildew or yeast. The EEL policy must otherwise cover the defense. Payment for that defense would be excluded without this exceptional sub-limit.
Coverage B: Reimbursement of attorney fees for defense of a criminal proceeding
- Reimbursement for attorney fees and other legal costs up to $35,000 if the member is charged with violating a criminal statute in the course of their educational employment activities, and they are exonerated from charges other than corporal punishment. Defense against corporal punishment does not require exoneration to obtain legal defense coverage under the policy. (State insurance laws do not permit this coverage in New York state.)
Coverage C: Bail bond
- Reimbursement up to $1,000 of bail bond premium if the member must post a bond as the result of an occurrence arising from their educational employment activities. (State insurance laws do not permit this coverage in Kentucky or Wisconsin.)
Coverage D: Assault-related personal property damage
- Payment of up to $500 when a member’s personal property is damaged in an assault upon the member in the course of his or her educational employment activities (vehicles and school property are excluded).
Extended Coverage: Medical and related arts endorsement
- Additional coverage is offered to athletic trainers, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists or dental hygienists for their rendering, supervising or teaching at schools or other educational units. This option is purchased by the state affiliate. Members enroll with their state affiliate.
NEA’s EEL policy is an occurrence policy. This means that claims arising from covered acts (“occurrence”) during the contract period are covered no matter when the claim is made—whether during that current period or years later. Benefits protect insured NEA members as of the time of the occurrence.
The EEL policy covers criminal and civil rights cases, but not cases arising out of the discharge or layoff of a member, or involving other “job rights” issues. These types of cases are covered by the Kate Frank-DuShane Unified Legal Services Program. This policy pays its benefits when other sources of insurance (e.g., a school district professional liability policy) are exhausted.
Commercial liability insurance
In some cases, NEA members may need to obtain additional liability insurance protection for operating a tutoring services business in their own residences. Operating a business (whether compensated or not) is not covered by the member’s personal homeowner’s, renter’s, or condo insurance policy or by the NEA professional liability policy. As a business, the commercial insurance needed is distinct from the member’s professional liability insurance, under NEA’s EEL insurance, that covers members who tutor students as part of the member’s work for an education institution. Most insurance companies will modify an existing homeowner’s, renter’s, or condo policy with a business-pursuits coverage rider (usually called the Permitted Incidental Occupancies—Residence Premises Endorsement).
Contact your insurance representative to inquire about the types of activities that are covered under your homeowners, renters, or condo insurance policy. Depending on the activity, you may need to obtain a separate commercial liability policy.