You’re a superintendent or an administrator responsible for coordinating the handling of legal claims. An office worker, looking worried, hands you a document and says, “Alex Coffeebreak submitted a notice claiming we’re violating the Laziness Protection Act.” Now what?
There are a few steps you should take as soon as possible. This article will summarize the most important.
1. Make a record of when and how the notice was delivered. A notice of claim is required by law before many types of claims can be filed as lawsuits against school districts or their employees. The law is specific about how the notice is to be delivered, when, and to whom. In addition to recording the date and manner of delivery (by hand, certified mail, regular mail, etc.), the district should retain the original notice of claim and the envelope it came in (or at least a copy of the part of the envelope showing the address and postmark or other delivery information).
2. Notify the district’s general counsel. You’ll want to provide a copy of the notice of claim to counsel for review of the claim(s) presented and advice as to steps that may be necessary in light of the specific claim or claims.
3. Send the notice of claim to your liability insurance representative. The district’s insurance may or may not cover the type of claim presented, but if you fail to promptly notify the insurance company that a notice of claim has been served, you’re in danger of forfeiting any coverage that applies.
4. Preserve significant documents and records. Once the district is aware of a claim, it can be held to have a duty to preserve relevant documents – and failing to do so can be held against it in subsequent litigation. You should reach out to the key people involved and make sure any records or documents relating to the situation (and if it involves an employee, the individual’s personnel file and other pertinent records) are preserved. This gets complicated when e-mails, Word documents, PDFs, and the like are considered, especially when your district has a practice of automatically overwriting electronic storage. Your district’s general counsel will be able to give you guidance on specific measures to take to preserve what needs to be preserved.
5. Have the matter investigated. The primary purpose of the notice of claim requirement is to allow the district to investigate a claim promptly, while the relevant witnesses’ memories are fresh and documents and other evidence still exist. Whether you, another administrator, or the district’s counsel will be responsible for it, a prompt investigation is important and can avoid serious headaches down the line.
6. Avert potential retaliation. Especially where the claimant is an employee, many types of claims are protected activity for which retaliation violates the law. If a supervisor or co-worker is aware of the notice of claim, make sure it is clear that no adverse actions are to be taken because of the notice – particularly if the notice of claim makes accusations against that person. Again, your district’s counsel will be able to provide very helpful advice and guidance.
Attention to a few key details at the outset may avoid significant problems and even prevent litigation altogether. Application of the foregoing steps may vary with the specific claims presented. Please contact us upon receipt of any notices of claim for the guidance referenced above.