The Boston attorney who helped win millions for Big Dig collapse victim Milena Del Valle’s husband and children says there are too many barriers for wrongful death suits stemming from the Amy Bishop case in Braintree, Mass., in 1986.
Bradley Henry is one of the Boston area’s high-profile attorneys for wrongful death cases. He represented Milena Del Valle’s children in a $28 million settlement for the 2006 Big Dig tunnel collapse that killed the Jamaica Plain woman. In 1992 he was involved in lawsuits from shootings at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington.
In an interview with The Patriot Ledger, Henry explains why the families of the victims of accused Alabama shooter Amy Bishop can’t sue Braintree and Massachusetts authorities – and why a lawsuit against the University of Alabama in Huntsville isn’t a good bet, either.
If it turns out that the 1986 investigation of Amy Bishop’s brother’s death was botched, could the families of the victims of the Alabama shooting sue police or prosecutors here?
You can bring claims, but they may be very short-lived. There are so many barriers against a successful claim – starting with prosecutorial immunity. You can’t sue prosecutors for deciding not to pursue a criminal charge.
But even if you could line up all the facts to try and show that, if she’d been convicted here, she wouldn’t have been hired in Alabama and so wouldn’t have committed the alleged Alabama shooting, it’s still stretched so distant (legally) in time, space and circumstance.
It’s too far away. It fails to meet the legal requirements of “proximate cause.” It would make no sense for anyone (in Alabama) to even try to sue.
So who could the families sue?
Bishop. Or the university, if it could be shown that they had sufficient information about her instability, her potential for dangerous action, and should have taken some action. That would at least survive a motion to dismiss.
The Simon’s Rock case makes a good comparison. The school had specific awareness of a student who was making threats, who got an unusual package (of gun-related items) the same day (of the shooting).
Unlike what seems to be the circumstances with Amy Bishop and the Alabama school, the Simon’s Rock shooting was close in time, and even though there wasn’t a specific target, the school knew he was going to shoot someone. But they didn’t take any steps to try and stop him.
It sounds like a lot of people here and in Alabama are going to be left feeling that justice won’t be totally served.
It doesn’t mean that what happened back in the 1980s was right. The question is, can people be held accountable now for things that happened then?
Of course you want people to be held accountable – mainly to try and prevent something like this from happening again. In my experience, that’s what drives people in these lawsuits.
Patriot Ledger writer Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.