Summary: In this article, our civil sex abuse and assault lawyer discusses the role of insurance in school abuse lawsuits. Oftentimes, insurance policies cover the entity (school, day care center, etc.). This increases the chances of financial recovery for the plaintiff.
Across the U.S., civil lawsuits for sexual abuse and assault are increasingly common, especially in cases where the perpetrator is a teacher, coach, principal, etc. These lawsuits are often filed against schools, both public and private, day care centers, youth program entities, etc.
One of the most important aspects of a lawsuit is the ultimate outcome or goal. There are two objectives in civil lawsuits for cases of sexual abuse or assault: compensatory damages and non-compensatory outcomes. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for their losses and damages. Under civil law principles, the plaintiff in a lawsuit has the right to seek fair, reasonable monetary compensation for any financial losses (medical bills, lost wages, etc.), as well as pain and suffering. Therefore, a student who was sexually abused by a teacher or coach may seek financial compensation for any financial losses and the extreme emotional suffering caused by the acts of abuse.
In addition, these case often result in non-compensatory outcomes, such as changes to internal operating procedures and policies. These types of outcomes are very common in any sexual abuse lawsuit, including lawsuits filed against schools, churches, youth organizations, etc. These outcomes are designed to effect change at the institutional level.
For instance, a school is sued for failing to take appropriate action against a teacher suspected of sexually abusing multiple students. As part of the settlement, the school agrees to revise its internal training procedures and increase training for students and staff.
The Role of Insurance in Civil School Sex Abuse Lawsuits
When civil lawsuits are filed against schools, churches, etc., insurance policies are often at issue. Many schools, churches and other organizations targeted at youth, be they educational or not, purchase general liability insurance policies. These insurance policies don’t just cover injuries and accidents that occur on the insured premises, i.e., the school, church, etc. They are referred to as general liability policies for a reason. They cover the entity itself for acts of negligence (general liability) that lead to injury. This usually includes negligence leading to sexual abuse or assault committed by employees.
Accordingly, insurance companies are often required to defend the institution (school, church, etc.) and provide coverage up to the amount purchased in the policy. In practical terms, the insurance company provides the defense lawyers and also makes all the major decisions, like whether to settle a case and the settlement terms.
However, general liability insurance policies vary; no two policies are alike. Terms, conditions and coverage amounts vary widely. This is especially true when comparing liability of public versus private schools. State laws often protect public schools from liability for sexual abuse by an employee. Pennsylvania, for example, limits liability of public entities like schools to specific situations. There is no exception for sexual abuse or assault by an employee, under state law. Federal law may still apply. Under federal law, public schools can still be held liable for sexual abuse, albeit in limited situations.
In addition, state licensing agencies often require specific types of insurance. For example, before a day care can obtain a license from the state, it must provide proof of a general liability policy with liability coverage amounts of at least $1,000,000.
Defenses Raised by Insurance Companies
There are complex legal issues that often come into play in these cases. Insurance companies often try to wiggle out of providing coverage by arguing that the acts constitute criminal conduct which are generally exempted from coverage. Most residential and commercial insurance policies specifically exclude coverage from criminal conduct.
Oftentimes, these issues boil down to whether a specific act was intentional or not. The reality is that insurance companies often lose and will be court-ordered to defend a school or church in a sex abuse case. That’s because the basis of liability against the institution is usually negligence, which is marked by the absence of intentional conduct. Negligence is generally defined as failing to take action, i.e., failing to report a suspected child molester-employee or failing to investigate claims of sexual abuse by an employee. By their very nature, these types of acts are not intentional. Rather, they are negligent. That’s precisely why insurance companies are often on the hook for school sex abuse lawsuits.
More Law Articles from the School Abuse Law Library:
- School Violence Lawsuits for Sexual Assaults, Hazing, Etc. (November 11, 2014) Cases of school violence have increased in recent years. This includes shootings, sexual assaults, hazing injuries, etc. Are schools liable in these cases? Find out more about how civil tort principles apply.
- Sexually Assaulted at College in Pennsylvania or New Jersey – What are Your Legal Rights? (July 28, 2014) Sexual abuse or assault occurs on college campuses every day. Dozens of colleges and universities have faced criticism over their handling of sex abuse/assault reports. Victims have accused colleges of sweeping reports under the rug in efforts to avoid criminal investigations and media attention.
- The Problem of Sex Abuse in Schools Begins with the School Itself (September 10, 2012) Why do schools fail to take appropriate action when faced with reports of sexual abuse or assault by a school employee? The recent Sandusky Penn State scandal highlighted the fact that school administrators are often poorly trained about state laws.
School Sex Abuse Lawyer – Representation by a Former Sex Crimes Unit Prosecutor
Laffey, Bucci & Kent partner Brian Kent is a former prosecutor who now focuses on sex abuse lawsuits against schools, churches, etc. Mr. Kent is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. Call Click To Call for a FREE consultation.
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