The University’s insurance rate has doubled from $12.2 million in the 2017 fiscal year to $23.7 million in the 2018 fiscal year, due in part to an influx of lawsuits filed against the University up to and during this time.
This increase in cost partially reflects that fact that the University’s insurance companies have perceived an increased risk in insuring the University. Columbia’s insurance, which it purchases through five private companies in addition to partial self-insurance, protects the University from financial consequences of loss caused by liabilities, including lawsuits and natural disasters.
The 2017 fiscal year spanned June 2016 to June 2017, while the 2018 fiscal year ended June 2018. During these years, Columbia has faced a number of public lawsuits, including a sexual harassment suit filed against the University in relation to its handling of complaints made against history professor William Harris, which it settled in December 2017. In July 2017, the University also settled a Title IX lawsuit filed by Paul Nungesser, CC ’15, in 2015. Nungesser accused the University of complicity in a harassment campaign by fellow student Emma Sulkowicz, who accused him of assault in 2015.
Michael Barry, the senior vice president and head of media relations at the Insurance Information Institute, said that the “unusually high” increased cost reflects incurred losses and future anticipated costs of both lawsuit settlements and legal fees.
“The rates in insurance are generally insurance on your actual and anticipated lawsuits. If Columbia is incurring actual losses, that is going to be reflected. The insurer is always trying to price policy to reflect the risk,” Barry said. “It is correct to identify lawsuits as a cost-driver for increases in insurance premiums.”
Barry added that, because insurers are measuring the trendline of actual and anticipated loss, current lawsuits—including the $60 million lawsuit GS student Irene Politis has filed against former General Studies Dean of Students Tom Harford for sexual misconduct and the lawsuit that 19 women have filed against the University for covering up sexual abuse by a CUIMC OB-GYN—might factor into future cost increases.
“If this trend continues, [insurance companies] have to price this policy to reflect the risk, if the risk is rising,” Barry said.
A University spokesperson declined to comment.