Zoeller: New law will protect schools against lawsuits

John O'Brien Aug. 14, 2009, 1:00pm


MUNCIE, Ind. (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says a new law will deter plaintiffs lawyers from filing lawsuits against schools and teachers.

Since a new law took effect July 1, Zoeller said teachers can feel free to discipline their students without worrying about frivolous lawsuits. The Indiana General Assembly passed the bill in April in response to complaints from teachers that they worried about the extent to which they could discipline.

"We believe this new law will deter lawsuits from being filed in the first place, since plaintiffs lawyers will know they will be up against the resources and authority of the State of Indiana through its attorney general," Zoeller said.

"If teachers have been reluctant to discipline out of fear of litigation, they can rest assured that the Attorney General's Office will aggressively defend them in court. Classroom misbehavior and disruptions deprive students of their state constitutional right to a public education, and that's the greater risk to Indiana's future."

Zoeller said he was a strong proponent of the law during the legislative process. He already had the authority to provide teachers with legal representation, but the new law extends it to give teachers a legal immunity that will be defended by the attorney general if their disciplinary actions were reasonable under the school's policy.

"If a student or parent filed suit over a teacher's discipline, then the school corporation usually would turn over the case to its liability-insurance carrier," Zoeller said.

"The insurance company, in turn, typically would settle out of court - perhaps for $1,500 - because that's less expensive than litigating the case. The problem with settling on cost-containment grounds is that the teacher never gets his or her day in court; and word spreads that the school wouldn't fight the frivolous complaint.

"That erodes respect for school authority and undermines classroom discipline. With this new law, that perception won't be created, since the Attorney General's Office will defend the teacher in court."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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