WASTE WATCHSchool Board Lawsuits
from Eyewitness News Online
Lawsuits Against School Systems Eat Up Hundreds Of Thousands
May 7, 2014
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Bob Aaron) -- Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being eaten up by lawsuits against local school systems.
School systems say they are a target for the suits, especially those surrounding sexual misconduct with children, but the cost of defending those suits comes at a high price to taxpayers.
When school employees like Casey Casto get busted and convicted for having sex with a student, school boards often find themselves in civil court.
The Bureau of Risk Management, or BRIM, is responsible for evaluating the risk of liability for school boards. But settlements with victims aren't the only cost.
"I was amazed by the results that I got for the amounts that were paid for defending them, compared to the amounts that were actually awarded," Travis Griffith, a plaintiff’s attorney said.
An Eyewitness News review of those sex-related civil actions against school systems in eight southern West Virginia counties over a dozen years shows that, often, the cost of defending these lawsuits sharply exceeds the award to the victim.
"Oftentimes, a high dollar demand is made by a plaintiff," BRIM boss Chuck Jones said.
The decision to settle or go to trial is based on an investigation by the board, the insurance adjuster, defense counsel and BRIM.
Kanawha county schools had 37 sex-related suits. Seven cost more to defend than the amount of the settlement. An example: The person suing got $22,500. The cost to defend the board more than $100,000.
"I'm concerned about anytime we have these big fees," Pete Thaw, of the Kanawha County School Board, said.
James Withrow, a board attorney, offered his thoughts.
“Often times, they'll come into a lawsuit, these layman and attorneys, sometimes with an inflated view of what that lawsuit is worth," he said.
Braxton County saw four cases, three with six-figure resolutions , in the year a sixth grade female teacher was arrested for sex with students. Defense costs topped those awards by some $300,000.
The state is not self-insured, but buys coverage through AIG insurance company. The limit of liability is $1 million per occurrence. County school boards may have an additional $5 million per occurrence. Both the award and the expenses are figured into the premium costs paid by the school board - money better known as your tax dollars
"This is a very litigious society and we are besieged by lawsuits," Thaw said. “The exact figures for Casto's multi-year case are not clear, but it appears the settlement was for about $75,000 dollars. The defense bill is in excess of $200,000. Insurance company's clearly think they're saving money with a tough stance.
On the other side of the coin, Eyewitness News found a million dollar settlement, largely unreported in Logan County, because of confidentiality agreements and, because the deal fell within the multimillion dollar insurance umbrella, the board will pay dearly for in the future.
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