Alleged Sexual Abuse by Teacher Not Covered as “Educational Employment Activities”
Applying Virginia law, the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia has held that an educators professional liability insurance policy did not afford coverage for a lawsuit against an insured school teacher accused of sexually abusing a student. Horace Mann Ins. Co. v. Barney, 2018 WL 1733989 (W.D. Va. Apr. 10, 2018). Specifically, the court held that the allegations of sexual abuse — despite occurring in part on school premises – did not constitute “educational employment activities” necessary to trigger coverage.
In 2013, the insured fourth-grade school teacher sought coverage under a claims-made Educators Employment Liability Policy for a lawsuit brought by a former student alleging that she had sexually abused him on two occasions, over 30 years ago. The student alleged that the first instance took place in a classroom while he had stayed after school for a club event. The second incident allegedly took place off school grounds the summer after the student had completed his fourth-grade year.
In the ensuing coverage litigation, the insurer sought a declaratory judgment that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify the insured teacher. The policy provided coverage for claims “arising out of an occurrence in the course of the insured’s educational employment activities.” The term “educational employment activities” was defined in the policy to include “the activities the Insured performed . . . [p]ursuant to the express or implied terms of his/her employment by an educational unit.” The insurer argued that the insured teacher’s conduct arose from “her own purely personal motivations,” rather than from “educational employment activities.” In response, the insured teacher contended that the allegation that some of the abuse occurred on school premises at least triggered a duty to defend under the policy.
Granting summary judgment for the insurer, the court held that “sexual abuse by a teacher is not within the liability insurance coverage of ‘education employment activities.’” Notwithstanding that one of the alleged acts of abuse occurred in a classroom, the court reasoned that “it is still pellucid that the conduct was not related to the goal of education.” The court also noted that coverage was likely precluded by an ‘intentional acts’ exclusion in the policy, but it did not reach the issue because no coverage was afforded in the first instance.