As the horrifying incidence of mass shootings continue to rise in the United States, so too, do the serious questions of liability to the victims. In particular, school districts, which have frequently been targeted by lawsuits in the aftermath of such tragedies, are seeing a need for “active shooter” coverage in their insurance policies, a sad commentary on the state of affairs.
School shootings have caused the death of more than 150 children and adults since 1990, the Wall Street Journal reported in August.
The families of victims of a shooting at a Washington state school district settled for $18 million last year, using benefits from the district’s general liability policy, according to the Journal.
“Active shooter” policies provide coverage for additional expenses such as funeral costs. Although the overall chance of dying in a school shooting are quite low, considerably less than being hit by lightning, school districts are increasingly adding them on to be prepared.
In a related controversial development, some politicians have called for arming teachers as a way to deter future shootings.
The idea has attracted a deluge of criticism from gun control and public safety advocates, who argue it would create more problems than it would solve. Leading to a highly charged debate, Kansas state legislators earlier this year proposed a bill that would make school districts liable if they did not allow teachers to arm themselves with concealed firearms.
The language of House Bill 2789 would have provided for “a rebuttable presumption of negligence” by the district “when it is shown by evidence that such school district did not authorize any employee” other than security officers “to carry concealed handguns.”
“It is not if our kids will be killed," Republican state Rep. Blake Carpenter said during a legislative hearing in March, according to the Kansas City Star. "It is when will they be killed, and what are we doing to prevent it."
Spurred on by February’s shooting deaths at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Carpenter said the measure was needed to protect children better. Teachers, however, were less on board.
"We don't want to be paid to carry guns," said Mark Desetti, legislative director for the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, according to the Star. “We want to be paid to teach.”
The bill faced especially heavy opposition from another group: Insurance companies.
Although teachers in Kansas have theoretically been allowed to carry guns since a conceal-carry law was passed in 2013, a major liability insurer effectively blocked that measure from being implemented for schools by threatening not to renew the policies for districts.
Insurers again effectively killed House Bill 2789 by contending they would be forced to drop policies or raise rates because of higher risk. The companies, who are on the hook for damages in premises liability cases, seemed to side with gun control advocates in finding that arming teachers would be more likely to hurt rather than help the situation.
“I don’t think insurance companies are notorious anti-gun liberals,” Mark Tallman, associate executive director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, told the Washington Post in May. “So we think they’ve got good reasons for not doing it.”
David Kani is a California-based lawyer focused on real estate and litigation with a frequent emphasis on premises liability in all its forms.