Legal experts say that Springfield attorney Rebecca Bouchard, who has been retained by the family, would be “breaking new ground” if they can prove school authorities failed to act.
“If the school administrators have specific knowledge of harassment and assault and stalking and intimidation, and fail or refuse to take steps, then they need to be held accountable,” said attorney Bradley Henry.
Henry knows this topic well. He represented the family of MIT student Scott Krueger who died in 1997 after drinking at a frat party.
So far, school officials have not been charged in connection with Phoebe's death on Jan. 14.
But District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel has already called “actions, or inactions,” of some school staff “troublesome.”
Henry says that comment is significant.
"The mere fact that the district attorney’s office was troubled enough by such conduct to comment about it publicly suggests there is strong evidence behind those concerns,” he said. “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”
However, he cautioned that attorneys would have to prove a direct link between Phoebe’s suicide and school officials' behavior.
“If there’s a clear line of causal events from the harassment to the student’s suicide, and if school administrators were aware of some or all of these events and failed to act, there should be no reason at all that they should not be held accountable for those failures to act,” he said.
Boston attorney Anthony Tarricone, president of the American Association for Justice, said Phoebe's family could also bring claims of negligence or civil rights violations.