Parents Withdraw Suit Against School Counselor Over Student Suicide

The parents of a Potomac Falls High School student who took his own life have dismissed their $5 million wrongful death suit against their son’s guidance counselor.

An eight-day jury trial for the suit was scheduled to begin in Loudoun County Circuit Court today, but Erin and Timothy Gallaghers’ attorney filed an order April 10 to nonsuit. The Gallaghers may re-file the lawsuit within six months, according to the order.

The suit was filed against Richard Bader, a guidance counselor at Potomac Falls High School, after their son, Jay, lost his life to suicide. He was 18 years old. Three weeks before that act, Bader had received an email from one of Jay’s friends raising concerns about his mental wellbeing. Bader met with Jay to talk about the concerns, but never notified the student’s parents. The Gallaghers say they should have been told and that their son’s life may have been saved.

During pre-trial motions in March, Judge James Howe Brown Jr. ruled that Bader was permitted to exercise his discretion in responding to the concern, which he did. “A duty of a Loudoun County school counselor is set forth by Virginia Code … to use their training and experience to assess and decide what steps to take,” Brown said.

In his testimony, Bader said he received the email near the end of the school day on Jan. 11, 2017, and he met with Jay the following afternoon, the first opening in his schedule. After talking with the student and asking questions that are part of the school system’s suicide assessment, Bader determined that Jay was at “zero” risk of committing suicide at that time.

“This outcome in my view was the only outcome,” Julia Judkins, Bader’s attorney in the case, said in an interview today. She underlined Brown’s determination that the law only requires the guidance counselor to assess the situation and make a determination. “Even the plaintiff’s expert witness (Scott Poland, a psychologist and co-author of Best Practices for the National Association of School Psychologists) agreed with Bader that Jay was not an imminent risk of suicide,” Judkins said. “That’s the law in Virginia.”

Timothy Gallagher said his family’s efforts are not ending here. In a Facebook post, he stressed that Bader should have notified him and his wife that he was assessing Jay as a possible suicidal risk, even though the information that he may be at risk came from a third party, a friend.

“Mental health professionals are acutely aware that adolescents are far more likely to share their suicidal thoughts with a trusted peer than an adult authority figure, such as a counselor. Our Jay did,” he wrote. “The counselor told no one and deprived us of our one opportunity to get our son the help he needed. We owe it to Jay and the present and future generations of school kids neither to accept, nor to tolerate, this misreading of the law.”

dnadler@loudounnow.com
twitter.com/danielle_nadler

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