Boards of Management and Insurance
What is the board of management required to insure against?
The Department of Education and Skills requires that the school is insured against the risk of fire, storm damage, flood and other water damage, together with insurance covering the board's legal liability to both employees and to other persons, including pupils.
In respect of legal liability, boards of management effect insurance under two headings: Employer's Liability and Public Liability.
The purpose of Employer's Liability Insurance is to indemnify the board of management in respect of its legal liability to its employees including teaching staff, cleaners, caretakers and classroom assistants arising out of and in the course of their employment. An employer may become legally liable if an employee suffers injury which results from the employer's failure to take reasonable care in the provision of a safe place of work, in failing to provide suitable and safe equipment, or in failing to provide a safe system of work.
The employer may also incur a legal liability where one employee is injured as a result of the negligence of another employee.
The purpose of Public Liability Insurance is to indemnify the board of management in respect of its legal liability for accidents to persons other than employees or accidental damage to their property. This insurance relates to accidents to pupils or other members of the public occurring:
- in or about the school premises; and
- away from the school premises whilst engaged in a school related activity which is carried out with the full knowledge and authority of the board of management and under the supervision of a teacher or teachers employed by the board .
How can legal liability attach to the board of management?
Legal liability can attach to the board of management as a result of accidents arising from:
- defects in school premises, furniture, equipment and other property;
- failure to exercise adequate supervision over the pupils;
- failure to take reasonable care to avoid accidents to pupils or other members of the public; and
- failure to ensure that goods supplied are fit for the purpose for which they are intended.
The measure of the duty of care owed by school authorities to students is based on the Law of Negligence as interpreted by the Courts in cases which have come before them for decision. The measure of duty placed on the teacher is "to take such care of pupils as a careful and prudent parent would of her/his own children".
In a 1994 court judgement the duty of care was defined by the judge as "the level of care a prudent parent would exercise when in charge of a similar number of children".
This duty of care exists while the students are under the control of the school, on the school premises or elsewhere. Failure on the part of the school authority to fulfil its duty of care may render it legally liable to compensate a student who suffers injury as a result of an accident.
The board of management is also obliged to keep the school building and grounds in a good state of repair and they may be legally liable for injury to pupils, teachers, parents or others caused by defects in the building or grounds.
Whether or not there has been a breach of the required duty of care depends on the facts or circumstances of each particular case. In the final analysis it is the courts which decide whether or not any legal liability exists.
Teachers have a duty of care for the pupils under their control. Liability for an accident to a pupil will arise if it is established that:
- The teacher and/or the school authority against whom an action is taken had a duty of care for the pupil at the time of the accident;
- The teacher and/or the school authorities were negligent in the exercise of the duty; and
- As a result of the negligence the child suffered injury.
In assessing negligence the Court will consider whether the teacher and/or the school authority exercised the same degree of care as would be exercised by a prudent and responsible parent.
Boards of management effect insurance to cover their legal liability to the pupils. It is worth noting, however, that the board's policy does not insure pupils. What is insured is the board's legal liability to the student. In other words, it is not sufficient for an accident to have happened for a claim to be successful. Negligence will have to be proven before any compensation is paid.
Personal Accident Insurance for Pupils
Some insurance companies offer an additional optional Schools Personal Accident Policy for pupils. This policy was devised primarily to allow parents to recover out of pocket medical expenses arising from accidental injury, irrespective of liability and without recourse to law (The policy also provides for death and disablement benefit).
To effect cover under this policy an additional premium in respect of each pupil must be paid to the Insurers. However, there is no legal duty on the board to provide Personal Accident Insurance for pupils. In some schools the parents' association organise this optional cover.
Department of Education Circulars on Insurance
Insurance against Liability for Injury to Pupils and Teachers (Circular 11/68)
- The Minister for Education desires to inform managers of national schools that he has been advised that when a pupil of a national school meets with an accident during school hours the manager is answerable in the event of negligence on his part or on the part of the teacher or his agent, being established.
- The Minister is further advised that a manager may be liable to a teacher who suffers injury through the negligence of the manager.
- Rule 56(8) (c) of the Rules for National Schools provides that the minimum time constituting an attendance at school may include "any time devoted to visits paid during school hours, under arrangements sanctioned by the Minister, to places of interest". In addition to visits to places of historical or general educational interest, permission is occasionally granted to managers under this rule to allow pupils to be absent from formal school work during the school day or portion thereof for the purpose of attending film shows or other entertainment of educational value, and to count such absence as part of the time constituting an "attendance" at school, subject to certain conditions, one of which is that the pupils be under the supervision of a teacher or teachers during the period of absence from the school. The Minister has been advised that the issue of the manager’s liability in respect of accidents that may occur to children or teachers injured at such functions, or while proceeding to the place at which the function is held, or returning to the school, will depend upon whether the given accident is attributable to negligence on the part of the manager or of some person for whose acts the manager is responsible.
- Circumstances may arise in which a manager will be answerable in law to a teacher or pupil injured, through some defect in the school premises, its furnishings or equipment. This liability can extend to other persons having lawful occasion to resort to the school and suffering injury therein.
- In view of these considerations the Minister recommends that all managers should have insurance effected against claims for compensation which might arise from injury to pupils or teachers, or where policies of insurance have already been taken out, that they should ensure that these policies cover accidents which may occur outside the school premises while children and teachers are visiting places of interest or attending functions referred to in paragraph 3 above.
Insurance against Liability for Injury to Pupils and Teachers (Circular 24/71)
The Minister for Education desires to direct the attention of managers of national schools to the Department's Circular 11/68 regarding insurance against liability for injury to pupils and teachers.
The Minister has been advised that, where the operation of a school transport service according to timetable involves children being brought to school in the morning before normal time of commencement of school business or children waiting at school in the afternoon after conclusion of school business, the manager may be held liable in the event of accident to pupils during the period intervening.
A manager may also be held liable if an accident occurs as a result of her/his undertaking supervision of children while they are walking from the vehicle to the school or vice versa.
In relation to the new curriculum, where the use of equipment is concerned, particularly equipment which adds any new particular hazard to safety, the manager would be expected to have correspondingly greater control and supervision exercised by teachers and might become liable in the event of an accident to a pupil.
In view of these considerations, the Minister recommends that managers should ensure that the insurance taken out by them in respect of accidents will cover such eventualities.
Note: The above Circulars are quoted as originally issued. References to the Minister as 'he', should be read as 'she/he'. The term 'manager' should be replaced with the term 'board of management'.