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The Collaborative Clearinghouse for Lawsuits and Other Claims Against ACE Group Insurance Companies

Illinois Union Sued Over Teacher Harassment Claim

May 30, 2012 - Alleged schoolyard bullying - by a teacher - has prompted a Mississippi couple to sue Illinois Union Insurance Co. and their local school district for declaratory relief.

Acting on behalf of a their daughter, identified only as “M.L.C., a Minor,” Bryant and Johnna Coward sued the ACE Group unit over its policy with the Hinds County School District. They are seeking to force Illinois Union and ACE USA Inc., also named a defendant, to cover the school district for defense costs any damages the Cowards secure.

Plaintiffs had charged in an earlier lawsuit filed in Mississippi state court that the school district allowed the infliction of emotional distress against M.L.C. and was negligent in hiring, assigning and retaining the teacher who allegedly abused her. The alleged abuse started in 2008 when a teacher identified as Louise Miley Johnston reportedly used foul language in front of students and “threw a large ball” into the face of M.L.C.

According to a report allegedly prepared by a teaching assistant to Johnston, the teacher once struck M.L.C. and yelled at her while she was tying her feet to a foot rest. Plaintiffs said other eyewitness accounts documented continued abuse of the girl by the teacher.  

After the parents sued the school district, it reportedly demanded coverage from Illinois Union, which had sold it an educators legal liability policy.  But Illinois Union refused coverage, writing the school on Jan. 25, 2012, invoking an exclusion for “bodily injury, other than mental distress arising out of wrongful employment practice.”

The plaintiffs said language of the policy clearly mandates that Illinois Union backs its client as far as mental distress is concerned, and they asked in a state court lawsuit that the insurer be held liable. Illinois Union has subsequently filed to remove the matter to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

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