As if Arizona’s school districts didn’t have enough to worry about as they embark on the start of a new school year, it has been reported that Arizona’s largest insurer for schools will not provide liability coverage for claims related to COVID-19. This leaves districts with a great concern for potential lawsuits and resulting costs.
The Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, also known as the Trust, provides insurance coverage to 250 school districts and community colleges in Arizona. It operates as a risk retention pool funded and governed by its members and is backed by reinsurance companies.
The Trust recently notified members that it will exclude coverage for liability claims related to the coronavirus, opening schools up to claims or lawsuits that allege a school district is liable for injuries or damages caused by COVID-19. This excluded coverage also includes any potential liability claims from parents who sue because they think their child contracted the coronavirus at school.
“The legal support would still be there,” Ken Hicks, who sits on the Trust’s board of directors, said in a recent radio interview. “What we don’t have is that ironclad that says ‘yes, we’ll cover every claim no matter what.’”
The decision behind the coverage exclusion is that it’s difficult and nearly impossible to know exactly where or how someone contracted the virus. Hicks explained there are many possible avenues for exposure.
He added their reinsurance partners do not provide liability coverage for claims relating to an organic pathogen such as COVID-19.
The Trust put together a waiver and several forms for schools to ask parents to sign that essentially helps protect school districts from legal claims.
Hicks said the forms are to inform parents what schools are doing to protect their children from the spread of the coronavirus and to make them aware of the risk of coming on to campus.
If a COVID-19 outbreak were to occur, the Trust will however provide coverage for cleaning and disinfecting a school. They also will provide workers’ compensation to staff members who prove they contracted the coronavirus at school.
Before adjourning in May, state lawmakers did try to pass a bill that would have protected schools from liability lawsuits related to COVID-19. The bill passed the House, but it did not get the necessary votes in the Senate.
Gov. Doug Ducey was asked in a press conference on Thursday if he is considering calling a special session to address school liability issues. Ducey said he is actually waiting to see what Congress does “before we make a decision around that next step.”
“They are going to do something, and it’s going to be likely this next week,” he added. “Then we will have a better line of sight as to what might be needed in Arizona.”
Hicks said the Trust board will meet in August to consider all options and possibly vote on a final plan for coverage. There is always a chance the Trust could make changes to the type of coverage it offers for COVID-19.