Houston Lawyer: City Files Liens Against Fallen Firefighters' Families

17 Jul, 2018 Liz Carey


Houston, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – Families of fallen firefighters who died battling a 2013 hotel fire say that the city of Houston has filed liens against them to recoup expenses for the deceased’s medical costs, an attorney for the families said.

Ben Hall, attorney for the families of four fallen firefighters and one firefighter who was severely injured, said the city had initially requested between $50,000 and $96,000 from each of the families, and filed liens in court against them in 2015.

The firefighters died in 2013 when a fire that started in a restaurant spread to an adjoining Southwest Inn. More than a dozen firefighters were injured and four passed away. It was the deadliest fire in Houston’s history, officials said. Another firefighter, Capt. William “Iron Bill” Dowling died in 2017 from injuries sustained during the fire.

Hall said he had taken his complaint to the city.

“I protested that and said this is really heartless that you all would even try to get money out of the coffins of the dead firefighters and asked them to forgive the liens,” Hall told the Houston Eagle newspaper. “The families had already endured enough.”

According to the city though, liens were never filed against the families. Instead, according to Allan Bernstein, spokesman for the city, the city filed a claim against the owner of the restaurant and the hotel to recoup expenses for the firefighters injuries.

Bernstein said the settlement has been made with those entities to compensate the city for its losses. 

Hall said that’s just not true. According to the Eagle, Hall pointed to a February 2016 email from a law firm hired by the city that said Houston was “willing to significantly reduce their liens” and accept a lower amount in order to resolve the matter. 

Texas law allows cities to recover medical and other costs for workers’ compensation claims from the parties responsible for any injury to a city employee.

Ronald Lewis, city attorney for Houston, told the Eagle that the city was not trying to “take money from the firefighters and doing so in some insidious way.” 

“We certainly haven’t asked the firefighters…. To go into their pockets and pay anything,” Lewis told the Eagle.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, said recouping the money from the firefighters “who have given their life in the line of duty… is never acceptable…”


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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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