Published Online: October 25, 2005
Published in Print: October 26, 2005, as School Mold Ruling May Have New Relevance

Law Update

School Mold Ruling May Have New Relevance

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The “employers liability exclusion” in a Louisiana school district’s insurance policy bars coverage for claims against a school board by employees who allege they have been injured by mold at school, a state appeals court has ruled.

The Oct. 6 decision by the Louisiana Court of Appeal, a mid-level appellate court in Gretna, La., could affect future litigation by employees who work in schools inundated by any mold resulting from Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita, but the case began well before those storms.

A group of employees at John Martyn High School in Shrewsbury, La., as well as a law-enforcement officer who was frequently at the school, sued the Jefferson Parish school district in 2001 for alleged injury and illness as a result of exposure to “toxic mold.”

The court did not describe the extent of the mold, but news reports from 2001 said school employees complained of becoming ill, and the school was closed as a result.

The employees claimed that the school district, which enrolled 49,000 students before it was hit in August by Hurricane Katrina, was negligent because it failed to make repairs, exercise reasonable care in managing the school, and take immediate steps to address the problem.

But the district’s general liability-protection policy from the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., based in St. Paul, Minn., which defended the district in the suit, had an exclusion that precluded coverage of bodily-injury claims arising out of employment by the school board or performance of duties related to the conduct of the board’s business.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court concluded unanimously that the insurance policy clearly and explicitly designated the district as a “protected person,” the employees of which are ineligible to make an insurance claim.

But the court held that the law-enforcement officer’s negligent-tort claim against the insurance company “remains viable.”

Vol. 25, Issue 09, Page 18

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