Tim and Erin Gallagher, the parents of a Potomac Falls High School student who took his own life last school year, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Dec. 2 in Loudoun County Circuit Court against their son's school counselor. The family says they're seeking $5 million from Loudoun County Public Schools in damages for the loss of their son.
The complaint alleges Jay Gallagher's counselor, Richard Bader, committed "acts of simple and gross negligence," which caused the death of their son. According to the document, Bader violated LCPS' standards of care by diagnosing the teen as not at risk of harming himself without the specialized training to do so. By failing to notify the student's parents or principal about his suicidal ideation, the complaint says Bader violated LCPS' suicide prevention procedures.
Julia Judkins, an attorney representing Bader, denies the counselor handled the situation improperly or illegally.
Evidence attached to the complaint shows Bader received an email on Jan. 11 from a friend of Jay Gallagher who recently moved to Colorado, telling the counselor the young man needed help.
"A senior, Jay Gallagher, is talking to me about some stuff going on with possible suicidal content," read the email. "He wants some help but isn't sure how to initiate, so just thought I'd let you know."
Later that day, Bader responded to Gallagher's friend asking for more information about when, to whom, how often and in what context he was talking about suicide. She told Bader that Gallagher was talking about suicide "somewhat frequently" but his comments to her the night before were "the most concerning."
Bader met with Jay Gallagher on Jan. 12 to address the concerns the teen's friend brought to his attention. Gallagher ended his life three weeks later on Feb. 3.
The complaint alleges Bader violated LCPS suicide prevention procedures by not notifying Gallagher's parents or the school's principal after he learned the student was at risk of taking his own life.
Judkins said Gallagher denied any suicidal feelings to Bader during their meeting. She said the student specifically asked his counselor to not tell his parents about the matter. Since Gallagher was 18 at the time, Judkins says he had the right to instruct his counselor not to notify his parents.
According to the complaint, another Potomac Falls student under Bader's supervision killed herself in October 2015 after the counselor was informed by her friend that she was at risk. Bader was aware the student had previously attempted suicide, according to the complaint. After meeting with the student to discuss her friend's concerns, Bader did not notify her parents, according to the document.
The Gallaghers say they've tried to mediate the issue with LCPS for more than six months to gain an understanding of the suicide prevention guidelines in the hopes of preventing other cases. Since the school system refused mediation three times, the Gallaghers "reluctantly" decided to file a lawsuit, said their attorney, Robert Hall.
The family is suing the counselor instead of the school district "to avoid the doctrine of sovereign immunity" in court, according to Hall. The Gallagher's complaint demands a jury trial for the case.
The Gallaghers are suing for $5 million in damages for mental anguish, the loss of future protection and care from their son and funeral expenses. The parents pledged in a statement they will not seek money from the counselor's personal income or assets.
The family garnered attention last summer when they created the Facebook page "Love + Jay" in honor of their son. In August, about 50 parents showed up to a School Board public hearing to express concerns about the rising rate of teen suicides in the county and to ask about prevention protocols.
Tim Gallagher told the Times-Mirror on Aug. 10 that he and his wife have been comforted by the outpouring of support they've received, including the group that showed up to the School Board meeting to ask for answers.