The tragic 2013 fire that engulfed the Southwest Inn in Houston led to the deaths of five firefighters and the severe injury of another. It has stood as the greatest loss of life by the Houston Fire Department.
In the aftermath, the administration of former Mayor Annise Parker subsequently hired a lawyer to monitor the lawsuits and in 2015 put liens upon any settlements paid to the dead firefighters’ families as well as one firefighter who was severely injured and subsequently forced to retire. The city was quietly trying to recoup money to pay for the medical expenses and worker’s compensation it paid.
According to a recent article, the community is just now learning about the liens and many are outraged. In response to the outrage, a spokesperson for current Mayor Sylvester Turner recently announced, “The city is not pursuing any liens on the firefighters or their families.”
Nevertheless, the president of the Houston firefighters union continues to speak out on this issue, asking the current mayor to put that pledge in writing. He went on to point out in an open letter to the mayor that the administration has left an unanswered question as to whether the city is releasing the liens or simply not pursuing them at this time with the option to later revisit the idea. These liens potentially amount to tens of thousands of dollars to be repaid by the families of the firefighters.
Lawsuits involving firefighters
The injured firefighters and their families have received settlements from the insurance companies and have sued various entities, including the manufacturer of the two-way radios used by firefighters that apparently malfunctioned during the fire. There are several other lawsuits that have yet to be resolved in court.
Legal guidance a must for families
Assurances by the current mayor’s administration are a start. But an attorney initially hired in 2015 continues to work with the families of the deceased and the injured firefighter to help ensure that these families receive all the compensation that is due to them. No amount of money can replace a parent or a spouse, but just compensation can help families have the financial stability to move forward.