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Insurer for Arizona schools won’t provide liability coverage for COVID-19

(Getty Images/Ernesto Ryan)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s largest insurer for schools will not provide liability coverage for claims related to COVID-19, leaving districts worried about potential lawsuits and resulting costs.

The Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, also known as the Trust, provides insurance coverage to nearly 250 school districts and community colleges in Arizona. It operates as a risk retention pool funded and governed by its members, and is backed by reinsurance companies.

Last week, the Trust notified its members that it will exclude coverage for liability claims related to the coronavirus.

That means the Trust will not provide coverage for claims or lawsuits that allege a school district is liable for injuries or damages caused by COVID-19. This includes parents who sue because they think their children contracted the coronavirus at school.

“The legal support would still be there,” Ken Hicks, who sits on the Trust’s board of directors, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “What we don’t have is that ironclad that says ‘yes, we’ll cover every claim no matter what.’”

The logic behind the exclusion is that it’s difficult to know where or how someone contracted COVID-19. Hicks explained there are many possible avenues for exposure.

He added the move was unavoidable because their reinsurance partners do not provide liability coverage for claims relating to an organic pathogen such as the coronavirus.

The Trust put together a waiver and several forms for parents to sign that essentially helps protect school districts from legal claims.

Hicks said they are meant to inform parents about what schools are doing to protect their kids from the spread of the coronavirus and to make them aware of the risk of coming on to campus.

The Trust, however, will provide coverage for cleaning and disinfecting a school if a COVID-19 outbreak were to occur. It will also provide workers’ compensation to staff members who prove they contracted the coronavirus at school.

There is a chance the Trust could make changes to the type of coverage it offers for COVID-19. Hicks said the board will meet in August to consider its options and possibly vote on a final plan for coverage.

Before adjourning in May, state lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would’ve protected schools from liability lawsuits related to COVID-19. The bill passed the House but it did not get a vote in the Senate.

Gov. Doug Ducey was asked on Thursday if he would consider calling a special session to address liability issues for schools. Ducey said he’s waiting to see what Congress does “before we make a decision around that next step.”

“They are going to do something, and it’s going to be likely this next week,” he added. “Then we will have a better line of sight as to what might be needed in Arizona.”

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