Virginia School District Offers Students Free Accident Insurance
By Gerri Elder
The Norfolk school division is like most other school districts in regions across the country when it comes to accidents. In other words, they happen all the time.
Accidents and personal injuries occur on school grounds across America virtually every day, and the list of types of injuries is long: falling from play equipment or collision during recess, tripping over school furniture or equipment, exposure to hazardous chemicals, just to name a few.
And because children spend most of their day at school from elementary grades on up, many students with chronic illnesses or other health problems may likely experience a related incident sometime during school hours that may affect other students and teachers.
In response to potential premises liability lawsuits, schools have done much to try to make the learning environment safer for children, as well as to protect themselves legally in case something should go wrong. High schools in Pennsylvania and New York have enacted
A current case in the Florida Supreme Court is deciding whether or not parents have the ability to sign away the rights of their children to sue on "hold-harmless" waiver forms. Such forms are, of course, standard for field trips and activities in schools, and the decision made by the court has the potential to affect how schools approach the issue of liability in the future.
However, Norfolk has decided to go one step further by providing accident insurance for every one of its 33,000 students. The policies they provide will pay for up to $25,000 in medical care for injuries that occur during school hours.
Currently, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, most districts in the region have optional policies from private companies that contract with the schools that are offered as a courtesy to parents, though it is rare that parents sign up for them. In many cases, if a family already has health insurance, that policy pays for medical costs for school-related accidents, and these school-offered policies are supplementary.
As the Virginian-Pilot also points out, public schools are generally not liable for accidents that occur on their premises because of a state legal statute called "sovereign immunity," which basically means that government bodies, including schools, can't be faulted for "simple negligence" while performing "governmental acts".
This immunity generally does not extend to bus accidents, however, which are governed under other state laws. Interscholastic athletics are also handled differently, and many school districts have separate insurance policies covering student athletes, since potential injuries that occur during sporting events are more serious than those that might occur during other school hours.
Of course, such a blanket policy is not possible for all schools. But those who initially balk at the idea of paying for such insurance policies may want to reconsider after hearing how much the bill was for Norfolk: $11,000, which works out to be $0.33 per child. If parents want more than the $25,000 of coverage during school hours, they can pay a one-time fee of $55, which provides 24-hour coverage of $500,000.
In either case, by offering their students another reason to attend their schools, and also preventing possible lawsuits before they happen-all for a nominal fee-for Norfolk, the situation is win-win-win.