State Liability Insurance and Why PAGE Membership is More Important Than Ever
Thursday, July 21, 2016
By Jill Hay
PAGE Director of Legal Services
This year the legislature funded excess professional liability insurance for educators, similar to the general liability coverage most districts already provide to its employees. In our opinion, it is a significant and unnecessary state expense and the funds could have been allocated to budget areas far more beneficial to educators, such as salaries or healthcare premiums.
In July, educators across the state began receiving a memorandum from the Department of Administrative Services informing them of this liability coverage. Although this memorandum may initially cause confusion among current and prospective PAGE members, most educators will quickly recognize the need for continued membership in PAGE for unequaled legal protection and open access to legal consultation.
Narrow, Limited Coverage
First and foremost, the state-funded liability policy only protects you when you are being sued or have been named in a lawsuit. Only then would it provide you with an attorney to represent your interests and only if you lack other liability insurance. Knowing full well that most districts carry liability insurance and that the school board attorney’s primary client is the board and the administration, educators feel more secure having their own PAGE liability coverage. Furthermore, if you are like most PAGE members, you will work your entire career without ever facing a million dollar liability lawsuit. During the past three years PAGE attorneys handled, on average, fewer than a dozen cases that would potentially qualify for coverage by this state policy. The last time the state offered educators a liability policy, not a single educator filed a claim.
No Coverage for Employment Matters
Second, the state-funded liability does not cover employment matters, and PAGE does. The state policy is not a prepaid legal services plan and it is not “legal insurance.” Therefore, if you are like the thousands of PAGE members who contact our legal department each year needing legal assistance with an employment matter, you would not be afforded these legal services through the state liability policy. PAGE, however, will provide you legal representation in employment matters such as termination, suspension, nonrenewal, demotion, harassment, grievances or salary disputes.
No Coverage for Certification Matters
Third, the state-funded liability does not cover certification matters, and PAGE does. If a complaint is filed against you with the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) alleging that you committed an ethics violation, the state policy would not provide you coverage for an attorney to represent you. The PSC reviews over 3,000 case referrals in any one year and opens an active investigation on about 1,400 to 1,800 of those cases. Of the open cases, about 12 percent are recommended for revocation and 26 percent are recommended for suspension. The remaining cases are recommended for warning, reprimand, denial of certificate or no probable cause. As you can see, a complaint with the PSC is a serious matter with career changing consequences since an educator’s teaching certificate is at risk. As such, an educator should not respond to any investigation by the PSC without the assistance of an attorney. The state-funded liability coverage would not assist you with this.
No Coverage for Criminal Defense
Fourth, the state-funded liability does not include criminal defense coverage. PAGE will provide you with an attorney if you are charged with criminal wrongdoing arising from your professional duties as an educator, and we will cover the attorney fees up to $10,000 win or lose - meaning whether you are exonerated, found guilty or entered of plea of nolo contendere. Most educators can’t afford to pay the money to retain a criminal attorney, much less pay all the fees and costs associated with a criminal case.
No Access to Attorney Consultation
Finally, the state-funded liability does not provide access to attorneys, and PAGE does. PAGE has five in-house attorneys who are available to talk to PAGE members at no cost to the member. It is such a comfort to PAGE members to be able to pick up the phone and seek immediate legal advice about a situation with a parent or administrator or other legal concern arising from their employment. PAGE also has a network of about 40 attorneys across the state, all of whom have specific expertise in school law. This is the core of the legal services provided by PAGE to its members.
PAGE Legal Protections the Strongest Benefit
In short, don’t fall for the “benefit” of free educator professional liability offered by our Governor and Legislature. It is no more than an attempt to diminish our members’ cumulative organizational input during the legislative process. With educator ethics reports on the rise and more employment rights violations and criminal misconduct allegations than PAGE attorneys have ever seen, it is now more important than ever to protect yourself and your career.
PAGE members have access to the legal protection policy and guidelines through the membership portal at pageinc.org. And, any member who has questions may always call our legal team at 770-216-8555 (metro Atlanta) or 800-334-6861 (outside Atlanta). The department email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our core business is to provide professional learning for educators that will enhance professional competence and confidence, build leadership qualities and lead to higher academic achievement for students, while providing the best in membership, legislative services and support.