Wrongful-Death Lawsuit in Henderson: The Connection Between Bullying and Child Suicide

On December 12, 2013, Hailee Lamberth sent a text message to her parents in the early afternoon to share her excitement for being awarded math student of the month. It was just two hours later that Hailee’s family found her dead in their home in Henderson. Along with a suicide note, Hailee’s father and her 6-year-old brother found that she had shot herself in the head. What happens when a child is bullied to the point that he or she feels that suicide is the only way out? Who is to blame? The bully? The school? Many questions are surrounding the case of Hailee’s suicide, and a lawsuit against the school has been filed.

It was only after Hailee’s death that her family learned of the bullying that she had experienced from schoolmates, pushing her past the breaking point. According to her parents, Hailee had been the victim of school bullying since August 2013, prompting them to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against White Middle School. The lawsuit alleges that school officials failed to inform Lamberth’s parents of the bullying, and that if they had been made aware of the bullying, their daughter would still be alive today. They argue that if the school had reached out to them, they would have had the opportunity to “intervene or access guidance and counseling services for their daughter,” the lawsuit states.

Facts of Hailee’s Story

According to the lawsuit, Hailee:

  • Enjoyed learning and earning academic awards such as the honor roll
  • Had many friends and a close, supportive family
  • Was considered the best soccer goalie for her age group
  • Was diagnosed with epilepsy and at times endured petit mal and grand mal seizures
  • Experienced “severe and abusive acts of bullying” in the months prior to her death, including:
    • Hateful voicemail messages that mocked her seizures, such as “Where are you Hailee? I hope you died.”
    • Being pushed around by a bully referred to as “C.H.,” including called ‘fat’ and ‘ugly.’
    • Receiving hateful letters in her locker from C.H. that read: “Drink Bleach and Die,” and “Why don’t you die?”

In the lawsuit, Jason and Jennifer Lamberth explain that they met with the school’s dean Ron Kamman on March 10, requesting any files relating to their daughter, including disciplinary files. Kamman said that no files existed for Hailee, but when Jason returned to the school on the same day, the principal then provided Hailee’s disciplinary file. After looking through Hailee’s file, Jason found that a November bullying incident involving Hailee had been “investigated and handled.”  As this was the first time they had been advised of the bullying incidents, they were shocked and disappointed with the school for failing to communicate such an important issue involving their daughter.

What is even more shocking about this case is that Principal Andrea Katona allegedly “made egregiously false and malicious statements defaming Jason and Jennifer Lamberth, outrageously and falsely claiming that Jason Lamberth abused Hailee,” according to the lawsuit. Because of this accusation made by Katona, the Lamberth’s lawsuit against the school includes a defamation claim.

What can be done to avoid similar situations?

Bullying is nothing new, but rather has evolved into a dangerous catalyst for irreversible methods of escape for those who are the victims of it. The internet has provided today’s children with yet another platform for bullying that children in past decades did not have. What can be done to stop or minimize bullying? According to Stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, working to prevent bullying can include talking about it, building a safe school environment, and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy. Some suggestions include:

  • School programs that educate students on what bullying is and the negative effects of it
  • Open communication methods among student, parents, and teachers – checking in with them often, listening to them, and understanding concerns and looking for changes in behavior
  • Encouraging kids to do what they love, and promoting children to encourage each other
  • Constructing a model on how to treat others with fairness, kindness, and compassion
  • Urging children to talk with a trusted adult if they are being bullied
  • Teaching safe methods on how to stand up to bullies
  • Encouraging students to help kids who are bullied by showing kindness or reaching out for help

There are also important suggestions given to parents and caregivers that will help keep them up-to-date with their children’s lives:

  • Read class newsletters and school flyers
  • Check the school website
  • Go to school events
  • Greet the bus driver
  • Meet teachers and counselors at “Back to School” night or reach out by email
  • Share phone numbers with other kids’ parents

School related injuries, accidents, and even deaths are tragic and should be prevented whenever possible. If a school neglects to protect your child, you should speak to an attorney immediately.

Resources: Stopbullying.gov

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