Last post I promised to continue the discussion of teacher groups in Texas and to talk about some of the drawbacks of each group. The way this will work is that in the next series of posts, I will talk about how the various groups handle different types of services, and rather than merely a comparison, I'll give you my best opinion on where they do well, where they are weak, and where it's mostly smoke and mirrors.
The first area to talk about is professional liability insurance, because that is the issue that gets most teachers to join a group for the first time. All the major groups offer this. Liability insurance acts much like your auto insurance does when you have an accident. Let's say you have a crash of some sort, and the other driver claims you're at fault and that you should pay for the damage to their car and all of their medical bills. You call your auto insurance company, and they assess the claim against you. If the other driver files a lawsuit against you, your own auto insurance carrier will provide you with an attorney to defend the lawsuit, and if you lose, the auto insurance company will pay the money to the other driver. The only money coming out of your own pocket is your insurance premium.
Professional liability insurance is similar in that if you are sued by a student or parent, your insurance carrier would provide an attorney to handle the lawsuit, and if you lose, the company pays any money you are ordered to pay to the person who sued you. The insurance coverage offered by all the groups is very similar, and in truth, depsite what they say during recruitment, all of the groups are pretty much equal in the value of their liability insurance.
But what is very important for teachers to know is what the liability insurance DOES NOT cover, because how each group porvides for the things that are not covered is where the real differences in benefits between the groups exist. First, more is not necessarily better. 8 million versus 6 million is not a factor worth using as a basis for making a choice. Million dollar verdicts are rare, and in most cases any multi-million dollar verdicts in school law cases would be split between several parties (teacher, principal, district, board, etc). So as long as the insurance policy is a million or more, you're probably in pretty good shape. Some of the groups' policies pay attorney fees over and above the stated policy amount, some include the cost of attorney fees in the limit, but either way you're safe with about 2 million dollars in coverage.
Employment Defense is Not Part of Liability Coverage Now, what these policies do not cover: Just as your auto insurance only coveres claims against you, not the expenses of maintaining and repairing your car, professional liability insurance DOES NOT provide you with money to repair and maintain your job. In other words, the liability policies do not cover attorney fees for filing grievances, for defending reprimands, or for fighting contract termination or non-renewal. All the groups provide help for those things, but they do it in very different ways. I'll talk about those ways in a future post. Liability coverage also does not cover attorney fees for defending against criminal allegations or child protective services investigations. All the groups provide some sort of assistance in those cases, but again, in different ways and in different amounts.
Employment Lawsuits Not Covered The liability policies cover lawsuits brought by people other than school employees. And they are for defense only. That means that a teacher cannot use the liability coverage to hire an attorney to sue the district for sexual harrassment or anything else, and an administrator who is sued for sexual harrassment will not be able to use the liability policy through his or her teacher group to hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit.
Districts Usually Provide Some Coverage Most districts carry liability insurance that covers their employees in suits brought against them in at least some situations, so even if you do not have other liability insurance, or if your particular situation is excluded by the policy you do have, the district may provide coverage, at least for an attorney if not damages. Also, your homeowners insurance policy may cover some lawsuits filed against you.
There is a lot of noise from the teacher groups at recruitment time about their liability coverage because they know that's why most teachers join groups and because it's impressive to throw around phrases like "Six Million Dollars!." But in truth, you need to look at how they provide other benefits to distinguish among them.