FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — An insurance company that covers the defendants in a sexual assault lawsuit filed by a former Springdale school student has asked a federal court to declare that it “owes no duty to defend or indemnify” the district or two other named defendants.
Alissa Cawood sued the district, principal Joseph Rollins and assistant principal Mark Oesterle in the Western District of Arkansas Federal Court on November 1, 2022, due to “sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the deprivation of bodily integrity suffered by a young student at the hands of the Defendants.”
Berkley Assurance Company filed a complaint for declaratory judgment on March 20. In that motion, BAC stated that the facts alleged in the case “fall squarely within Exclusion 12 of the Coverage A and Coverage B Exclusions section barring coverage for ‘loss’ and ‘loss adjustment expense'” pertaining to claims based upon “abuse or molestation.”
The filing went on to cite additional relevant exemptions that BAC said “excludes any duty to defend Rollins or Oesterle.”
“The Underlying Lawsuit seeks damages for emotional suffering and mental anguish, shame, humiliation, medical expenses for physical ailments, counseling and therapy, and transportation expenses to obtain such treatment. Thus the damages fall within the scope of this exclusion and there is no coverage.”
Berkley Assurance Company, Original Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, March 20
The filing concluded by asking the court to rule that BAC does not owe a duty to protected the district, Rollins or Oesterle “for any award or judgment that may be rendered against any one of them in favor of Cawood in the underlying lawsuit.”
Cawood’s suit noted that all actions took place when the plaintiff was a student at the School of Innovation (SOI) or Har-Ber High School. It states that Oesterle engaged in “grooming behavior” toward Cawood, culminating in “a pattern of sexual harassment, molestations, sexual assaults, and violations of bodily integrity.” It stated that the principal and the district were aware of this behavior and did nothing to stop it, nor did they provide any warning to her grandparents, who were her legal guardians.
The suit noted her attendance fell off, her mental health deteriorated, and she “suffered from persistent anxiety.” She was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a “direct result of Oesterle’s repeated sexual harassment and abuse.”
Cawood seeks damages for multiple reasons, including emotional suffering, mental anguish, humiliation and loss of self-worth, medical expenses, loss of educational benefits and loss of employment opportunities. The filing requested a jury trial, which has been scheduled for 2024.