Confused about whether you need professional liability insurance to teach or work in the school? You’re not alone. It’s an easy assumption: I don’t need liability coverage because my district, union, or professional organization covers me. Right? Wrong.
“Professional liability insurance is important because your district’s coverage may not protect you individually as a teacher or school employee,” says Kelsey Kennedy, director of educational awareness of National Public Employee Alliance.
We talked to insurance experts and classroom teachers—just like you—to find out when professional liability coverage comes in handy. Here are five reasons you might want to explore professional liability insurance as a teacher or school employee.
1. Technology has changed the landscape.
The prevalence of cell phones and social media has made educators more vulnerable. “Everyone who walks out of their house is a potential YouTube star,” says Darren McKinney, director of communications with the American Tort Reform Association. And with the ability to subjectively edit videos, teachers have a right to be concerned about how their actions might be perceived.
“If you have any kind of suit against you, it would be career-changing and really hard to overcome,” says Linda Lancaster, a seventh grade geography teacher in Ada, Oklahoma. “I feel like you need that protection more-so now. With social media, it’s kind of like a wildfire.”
2. Mistakes happen.
Imagine a teacher playing softball. They have great intentions of having a good time with their students, but as they swing they accidentally hit a student and knock out some teeth. They could be liable.
“It has nothing to do with them as a teacher, but they have caused physical harm to a student,” says John Abraham, director of worker benefits and capital strategies for the American Federation of Teachers.
Or, picture this: A teacher is helping a student one on one and inadvertently knocks the student’s laptop to the ground causing property damage. A professional liability policy would help cover the cost of repairing or replacing it.
Phil Ferguson, a para-educator at a high school in West Gardiner, Maine, says he gets liability coverage in part to cover mistakes that can happen on the job. “It’s always better to be safe than sorry because you never know,” he says.
3. False allegations can occur.
Let’s think about a scenario—a fight between two students. A teacher working on a lesson plan at the time of the incident may be sued for not properly supervising. Sometimes situations escalate quickly even when a teacher is doing his or her best.
Many teachers, such as Ferguson, say they keep their doors open when meeting with students individually so there are no allegations of wrongdoing behind a closed door.
Lancaster says she worries about students who might make a false claim. “In their early teens, boys and girls are starting to feel their power a little bit. Sometimes they don’t know how devastating the accusations are that they say against teachers. That concerns me because of the age of my kids,” she says. “They say something sometimes and they don’t know how to stop it. It just gets away from them.”
4. You can’t always count on others.
When charges are filed, teachers may not be able to count on the backing of a supervisor or elected official. When it comes down to it—sometimes it’s simply out of their hands. There’s always a chance that you will be left out on a limb.
“Our society has become very litigious. You should not have to face this environment alone and risk your entire life savings,” Kennedy says. “That’s why having your own insurance policy naming you as the insured is a must for all employees in the education field.”
5. Lawsuits are becoming more common.
“There is no question that the risks for teachers to be targeted by civil lawsuits are increasing in the past few decades,” says McKinney. “And school districts are spending a steadily increasing amount on litigation costs.”
Although most schools are run smoothly, in some, the respect for authority has diminished and the school culture is more volatile. “It’s naive to think that just because I am doing a good job, being fair, and keeping order in my classroom that someone isn’t going to sue me,” says McKinney. “There are thousands of fraudulent lawsuits filed every year with allegations that have no basis in fact.”
You have enough to worry about as a teacher. Professional liability coverage is there so you can focus on supporting students instead of things that are out of your control. To learn about this safety net, see prices, and get more information, check out NPEA to get started. You never know when it might come in handy.