Parents sue school counselor over student suicide

In Loudoun County, Virginia, the parents of Jay Gallagher are suing school counselor Richard Bader following the suicide of their 18-year-old son [Washington Post]:

The lawsuit accuses the school counselor of negligence and ignoring school guidelines that direct counselors to notify parents if their children express suicidal thoughts.

But Julia Judkins, Bader’s attorney, said the lawsuit does not tell the full story. Judkins said that the teen told Bader not to talk to his parents about their meeting and denied he was suicidal.

“They’ve left out the fact that this young man was 18 years old and he had the right to tell Mr. Bader, ‘Please don’t tell my parents,’” Judkins said.


  • I was reading some of the comments and have a few questions. Was his discussion with the counselor a “medical discussion”? Was this a HIPA issue? I’m asking because I believe that schools are starting to suffer from “mission creep”. More and more they are intruding deeper and deeper into the lives of their students and their students families.

    Should a High School Guidance Counselor be making these types of decisions? Shouldn’t school policy be to refer the student to certified professional?

    • “Should a High School Guidance Counselor be making these types of decisions?”

      What types of decisions are you imagining that the Guidance Counselor made?

      The decision to not notify the parents was not made by the Counselor, It was made by the student who was legally an adult and had every right to make that decision.

      “Shouldn’t school policy be to refer the student to certified professional?”

      To what end? The student denied having suicidal thoughts and since the student was an adult, the student could not be forced to see a “certified professional”, not even by his parents, absent a court order.

      • That kind of makes the whole lawsuit BS then, doesn’t it?

        • Why yes, it does. 🙂

  • What an unfortunate situation. I think the parents will have a tough time winning their lawsuit, but there’s more to winning than having the law on your side. I’m afraid this case has the potential to be an example of “bad facts make bad law.”

    If the parents somehow win this case, it can set a very dangerous precedent and will undermine a guidance counselor’s ability to do his or her job.

  • This is not what anyone means when they say bad facts make bad law. That saying refers to appellate opinions where the courts make new law construing unique facts that should not be applied across a spectrum.

    Failure to prevent suicide cases are incredibly difficult for plaintiff. I defended drug companies against these claim. It is just a tough road. But the comments here are troubling. You have determined, as a matter of fact, that the child said he was no suicidal and there were no facts to support the conclusion that something should be done. One person repeats the defense contention and then we run with the premise dismiss the lawsuit as nonsense.

    I think everyone can agree with can conjure up facts here that would make the school a substantial contributing cause to this child’s tragic death. None of us know one way or the other what the facts are at this point.

    The OJ trial gave us one gift: the line about rushing to judgment.

    • Ron,

      The most basic premise of the suit is that the school was obligated to notify the student’s parents. However, the student in this case was legally an adult and that in and of itself should defeat any legal requirement for parental notification.