When agents shoot, lawsuits follow.

It's a rule of thumb that Border Patrol agents know and even families deep in Mexico come to learn.

Sometimes attorneys seek out the victim's family. Other times, the Mexican government offers the family legal help through a network of attorneys.

Among the survivors and their families now suing the federal government:

• The mother of Carlos LaMadrid, a U.S. citizen shot by a Border Patrol agent as he climbed a ladder over the border fence in Douglas on March 21, 2011.

• Jesus Enrique Castro-Romo, a Nogales, Sonora, resident who survived being shot by an agent on Nov. 16, 2010.

• The family of Sergio Hernandez-Guereca, killed along the international line in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on June 7, 2010.

In that case, the U.S. government argued that constitutional protections don't apply to Hernandez-Guereca, a 15-year-old Mexican national because he was shot in Mexico. U.S. District Judge David Briones accepted that argument and dismissed the case in February. The family is appealing.

In the largest recent settlement, the federal government agreed to pay $850,000 to survivors of Mexican illegal immigrant Francisco Dominguez-Rivera. That's even though two juries failed to convict Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett in Dominguez-Rivera's killing.

Frequently, however, the shooting victims' families get nothing.

Border Patrol Agent Denin Hermosillo killed an unarmed marijuana smuggler west of Rio Rico in 2005, in what investigators believed was an accidental discharge of Hermosillo's gun. The victim's father in Mexico sued in U.S. District Court, but the late Judge John Roll threw out the suit because it was filed too late.

Zelma Barron Torres, the mother of a 15-year-old killed near the border fence in Nogales, Sonora, in January 2011, received visits from several attorneys after the shooting. She signed a contract with one of them, Ezequiel Reyna Jr. of Weslaco, Texas.

But after a while, the lawyer stopped returning her calls, and eventually she had missed the deadline for filing suit. Reyna did not return a call from the Star seeking comment.

Attorney Luis Parra is representing the family of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, a 16-year-old killed in Nogales, Sonora, by a Border Patrol agent firing across the border on Oct. 10. The agency said the gunfire was in response to rock throwing from the Mexican side.

"We're maintaining that José Antonio was not involved with rock throwers. He was not involved with crossing into the United States," Parra said.

The family plans to file a claim within the six months required by law, he said.

Suits can provide some accountability, said Esha Bhandari of the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project.

She pointed to the Hernandez-Guereca case from El Paso as an example. Almost two years after the June 2010 shooting, in April this year, the Justice Department announced it would not pursue charges against the agent who shot him, despite witnesses and video evidence that raised questions about the necessity of the shooting.

"It's basically case closed," she said, "unless the Hernandez family gets their day in court."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com