Authors: John McLaughlin, Natalie Douglass
Higher education institutions felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic early on—from deciding whether students should return from spring break to how to transition to online learning from traditional instruction. Now, these higher education institutions face a continuing rash of lawsuits centered on those very decisions. Beginning in early April 2020, class action litigation began to be filed against colleges and universities alleging that the defendant institutions have failed to deliver educational services, facilities, access or opportunities as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown and transition to online learning. This report explains the general anatomy of the complaints that Gallagher’s education clients have filed with insurers, as well as feedback as to how the insurers are responding to these claims.
It is important to emphasize that this report was written taking into account the claims that Gallagher clients have seen and what we know to be insurer responses to those insurance claims. It does not account for other similar claims filed against non-Gallagher clients. In addition, we refrain from citing which insurance claims were the basis of our review to protect client confidentiality.
Class action higher education & tuition complaints
The class action higher education and tuition complaints filed against colleges and universities have many similarities. The complaints are generally brought by a student or students on behalf of a purported class. Interestingly, a couple of recent higher education and tuition complaints are brought by parents of students, rather than students.
The higher education and tuition complaints also may share a common theme in the allegations, notably:
- There has been a diminution in the value of the degree, education, etc. or a decrease in the quality of education by virtue of online learning versus in-person instruction;
- The institution charged tuition for in-person instruction and did not fulfill that obligation, substituting online instruction that should be valued at a lower tuition rate; and/or
- Meal plans and lodging/room and board were charged for, but unused due to the shutdown.
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