CCALA: California schools “ripped off by litigation”

A report from California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse tells us: “In fiscal year 2005, three of California’s five largest school districts (listed above) paid $32.8 million in litigation costs – $8.0 million in verdicts and settlements and $24.8 million to outside counsel.”

I wish the report could have been more persuasive on the costs of litigation: when the unwritten math is done, Los Angeles Unified School District spent less than $40/student on legal costs in FY 2005, which is just under 1% of their budget. (Between 2002 and 2005, the average was $70/student/year, and a little less than 2% of the budget.) Is that too much? Relatively little? I’m hard-pressed to say (school officials do do actionable things that get themselves legitimately sued), and the report does not give us a baseline. Did something change to cause costs to go down by over 60% between 2002 and 2005, or was 2002 (or 2005) an outlier? The report does not indicate. Why does Elk Grove’s number include insurance costs and LAUSD’s doesn’t? (Is the report understating liability expense?)

Other data in the report are more interesting and troubling: “A 2004 study by Harris Interactive revealed that more than half of educators are concerned about the risks of legal challenges in their jobs and most educators feel the current legal climate has resulted in ‘defensive teaching,’” and a sizable majority feel that their own ability to do the job has been adversely affected by liability fears. And there is an extensive report of a lawsuit against a Napa school district dress code that led the school district to change the policy rather than spend a small fortune defending it in court—though that is a consequence more of federal courts’ meddling in school administration on purportedly constitutional grounds (Nov. 2003) than of anything state legislative action can do, if a reminder that presidential judicial appointments really matter.


  • I found the comments in the report which showed what else could be bought for students instead of paying the legal fees to be the most interesting. More disturbing is to consider how much money is spent and what changes in the schools have been made in defense of possible lawsuits.

    I live in a county where children can not play football, throw a baseball or play tag while on recess because of fear of lawsuits.
    In fact, the county is in the middle of a lawsuit because a child was found reading the bible while on recess.

  • The citizens of the USA have become weak minded suckers and…

    It is immoral to let a sucker keep his money.

  • What surprised me about the post was Ted actually acknowledging that there is such a thing as a legitimate lawsuit. Sounds like the therapy is working. LOL

  • A student reading a Bible while on recess is actionable? Wow. Do you have details? The lawyer bringing such a case ought to be permanently disbarred.

  • Once again another pebble of truth as to why most suits should be thrown out of court, if the same lawyer files another one, thrown out of the BAR. Then beaten by a group of his/her peers as well! Err no just call the cops, they will for sure perform the beating.

    Keep electing lawyers to positions of law creating vs. keeping them in positions of law arguing and our society will continue in the direction we have been.

  • Some school systems are so dumb that they pay damages in settlements that are not even available under state or federal law even if plaintiff wins the case!

    The Supreme Court has made clear, for example, that punitive damages are not available under spending-clause statutes like the Rehabilitation Act, see Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181 (2002) (reversing punitive damages ruling under Rehabilitation Act).

    That means they are not available under most federal civil rights statutes, which are also based on the spending clause, including such statutes as Title IX and Title VI. See Mercer v. Duke (4th Circuit) (Title IX does not award punitive damages).

    Yet school systems pay millions of dollars in damages to settle Title IX sexual harassment suits and Title VI racial harassment suits, even when the only way a student plaintiff could possibly recover so much damages against the school system would be to recover punitive damages, which are simply not available under federal law. (In light of circuit decisions like the Hetzel and Annis cases sharply limiting emotional distress and other compensatory damages).

    They are stupidly giving away taxpayers’ money, to the delight of the trial lawyers, who receive a share of the damages awarded as well as attorneys fees under fee-shifting statutes like Section 1988.