April 14, 2018

Yesterday a Stoneman Douglas teacher left a loaded gun in a public restroom.  A drunk, homeless guy found it and fired it. Luckily nobody was hurt, but police found a bullet embedded in the restroom wall.

The teacher, Sean Simpson, was arrested and "charged with failing to safely store a firearm, a second-degree misdemeanor."

The homeless guy, Joseph Spataro, 69, was charged with trespassing and firing a weapon while intoxicated.

This is an important story because it raises questions about who pays for the damage caused when there is an accident involving a gun that was legally carried into a public building, business, church or school that chose to allow the gun inside.

I'm sure someone will dismiss this incident because "technically it didn't happen in a school." But incidents just like this happen all the time, there is even a "guns in bathrooms" tumblr page.  With more guns, and new concealed carriers, more of these type of incidents will happen in schools.  However, no gun, no gun accident. But for the gun, there would be no gun left in the bathroom. 

(Technically I should use the word negligence, as in negligent storage, handling or discharge of a firearm, but I use accident because people search for "How many teachers have had gun accidents? Or which states have had gun accidents in schools?" Hopefully they will find the Gunviolencearchive.org to get details )

School districts, school boards, sheriff's departments and insurance companies all need to look at the problems, costs, risks and liabilities when more guns are legally brought into schools. Before I went to a #TownHallForOurLives I would want to know the answers to these questions. (See the Townhall Project page for one near you.)

For me this incident brought up some specific questions about guns in schools that do not focus on some possible active shooter event in the future, but focuses on the dangerous reality of guns every single day of the school year.  What are the ongoing  costs and liabilities? What is covered by insurance? What is exempt?  What about accidents with people carrying guns to and from school, outside school and at after school events?

Who pays for all of this?

Some states try to get around the unspoken, continuous liability issue by putting the insurance burden on the teacher who volunteered for the program. Other states vote immunity for some groups or put on caps for payouts. But talk to a smart attorney about these cases, they will reach an entity with deep pockets.

Will your school district be the one left holding the bag? 
And with settlements in the $2.5 to $3 million dollar range, personal injury lawyers have already established programs and incentives to make it so. 

We don't know the whole story about Mr. Simon, the chemistry teacher. A few questions to ask:

1. Did the teacher have liability insurance? 
If not, why not? Remember, people with concealed carry permits are not required to have insurance. Schools are required by law to have insurance or they can't open.

2. If the teacher had personal liability insurance, what are the exemptions and policy limits? I've looked at these individual policies, including those subsidized by the NRA. They are filled with exemptions. Coverage? The expensive ones usually are capped at one million dollars, the average cost of a multi-day stay in a hospital following a gun injury is 1.2 million dollars. (BTW, Lockton, the broker for NRAs branded personal liability insurance policy for gun owners, stopped providing insurance in February-Reuters.  Insurer Chubb Ltd (CB.N) decided to stop underwriting the “NRA Carry Guard” program in November of 2017 - Insurance Journal, )

3. Who else is liable and do they have deep pockets?
Individual policies don't pay out if the policy owners' gun is used by someone else. Such as when a child drunk homeless guy gets a gun off a bathroom floor and shoots it.  They don't pay when the gun owner is charged with a crime, even a minor one. This is great for the insurance provider, not so great for the victim. (I suppose you could sue for a teacher's assets. But a 2012 Toyota Camry won't cover the first hour of medical care for a gunshot wound.)

4. Florida legislators haven't addressed the ongoing insurance costs and liability from teacher gun accidents. Will they provide more money, or take money from other programs? Will they push the costs down to school districts?

Based on what I've seen, Florida lawmakers only talk about coverage of active shooter events. This is not about coverage for damage, death or injury from intentional shootings. "Stand Your Ground" laws will not protect the teachers, school district or city for these kind of incidents.

5. Why should school districts that do not choose an armed teacher program have to pay for the insurance of those who do?

School boards and local elected officials need to know the costs and availability of insurance for these situations.  To fail to do so is a failure of their fiduciary responsibility to their board and citizens.

School districts in Florida got a partly funded mandate from the state for school security.  It didn't provide money  for insurance to cover the armed teachers, so who pays? Will school districts and cities raise property taxes to pay for this? They are fighting over this now. (After Parkland legislation, Brevard school board struggling to find money for armed officers, Caroline Glenn, FLORIDA TODAY)

Note to School Boards:  No guns, no need for gun insurance. 

In Florida the state provided money to the department of education for a training program for the teachers, most of that money goes to the sheriff's departments. But how good are these departments in training?  Are the law enforcement insurance providers ready for this? Who pays those premiums?

In Tennessee, they passed a law to allow armed teachers a few years ago. But the law enforcement agencies  authorized to do the training found they couldn't get insurance (or the premiums were high and there wasn't any money.)

In Brevard county Sheriff Ivey was gun ho on training teachers. He even told the vice chairman of the school board that his insurance would cover the trained teachers.

Following his calls to arm school staff, Sheriff Ivey tells school board to drop marshal program Credit: Photo Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today

This week he suddenly changed his tune telling the school board to drop the marshal program. Could it be insurance problems? Did he see he didn't have the budget to pay those premiums? Or is it because he doesn't want money for the training program to cut into HIS budget for School Resource Officers?  SROs mean he gets a steady stream of money and increased headcount. The program to train teachers to shoot to kill means headaches and liabilities.

Negligence can lead to gun accidents by anyone with guns. Cops, weapons instructors, highly trained concealed carry owners and new carriers. I'm glad that nobody was hurt in this instance. I'm sorry that Simpson felt the need to be armed, but his mistake can be a useful story to share at all the upcoming Town Halls.

As Stoneman Douglas student Lex Michael said in a tweet,

"My (environmental science) teacher just gave another example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers!! Thanks Simpson. Love you.”


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