City Pursued Fallen Firefighters For Costs Of Their Line-Of-Duty Deaths

The city of Houston was seeking $20,000 from the estates of three firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Houston, TX – In an effort to recoup medical expenses incurred in the line of duty, the city of Houston hired an attorney to file liens on the estates of firefighters who were killed or seriously injured during the 2013 Southwest Inn fire.

“When I saw it I immediately contacted…the fire department to see if this was really legit,” Houston City Council Member Michael Kubosh told KRIV. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

“Why would we file liens against the estate of people who have died in the service of our city?” Kubosh admonished. “It just seems so egregious to me.”

On May 31, 2013, the Southwest Inn fire caused the greatest loss of life in the history of the Houston Fire Department, KPRC reported.

Firefighters Anne Sullivan, Robert Bebee, Matthew Renaud, and Robert Garner died at the scene. Captain Bill Dowling was severely injured in the blaze, and died in 2017.

A sixth firefighter, Robert Yarbrough, survived the deadly fire but was so severely injured that he remained hospitalized for over a year and was no longer able to work.

This week, he learned that the city filed a lien against him.

“They’re trying to get paid all the medical bills, all the doctor visits, all the medicine doctors prescribed,” Yarbrough told KPRC. “Anything workers comp paid for or the city paid for.”

In a February, 2016 letter from Pappas & Suchma, the law firm hired by the city, to attorney Ben Hall, who represents Yarbrough and the families of Garner, Sullivan and Bebee, the city asked for $20,000 from each of the deceased firefighters’ estates.

From Yarbrough, they wanted $50,000.

“Despite the fact they are entitled to considerably more under the Texas Labor Code and interpreting case law, they are willing to significantly reduce their liens and accept [these amounts] to resolve these matters,” the letter read, according to KPRC.

Pappas & Suchma also filed court paperwork seeking over $2.5 million from Dowling, who was still alive when the request was made in 2016.

“[I was] pretty speechless, to be honest with you,” Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton told KRIV. “The word I used is ‘disgusting.’ If there is any attempt – ever – to put a lien or ask for money on the backs of firefighters that have given the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, there is no other word.”

On Thursday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the establishment of the liens occurred before he took office, and that the city would be releasing them, KPRC reported.

“I have not authorized, and neither will I authorize, the legal department, or anyone on behalf of the legal department, to attempt to collect on any lien from the Southwest Inn fire on any of the family that were impacted from that fire," Turner said.

Comments (21)
No. 1-21
drag
drag

wtf what a joke nothing sacred anymore just greed

Mrs10
Mrs10

Unbelievable. No words to describe the person who actually tried to collect.

LEO0301
LEO0301

I don't know how this can be legal. Workers comp is there to provide care to employees injured while working.

Gramercy
Gramercy

I agree with comments read..hard to believe this is for real!!!! And I think Leo is right..that is what Workers Comp is for...and what they get, like Medicare, is all they are allowed to receive.

Propolice
Propolice

My jaw dropped when I read this. What a shock it must have been for the families to hear this. I wish they would release the names of the people who thought this scheme up. Disgusting!

Officer Cynical
Officer Cynical

"...city of Houston hired an attorney to file liens..." No, someone representing the city did. Publish the names of everyone involved in dreaming this up and signing off on it.

SDLucas
SDLucas

What "Officer Cynical" said... Then fire them.

JBo
JBo

I would like to know who in their right mind, ever thought this was a good idea. Are they trying to find ways to bring more grief to the families?

TarnishedCopper
TarnishedCopper

I believe this is a violation of federal law .specifically the Worker's Compensation laws. All the families should band together, get a GOOD attorney and sue the pants off of the city of Houston for mental anguish etc.

Fearless Foe
Fearless Foe

Glad to see that the Mayor is stopping this.

kgolfinghawaii
kgolfinghawaii

Amazingly horrible. I have a story, nothing bad like this, but I work for a large Corp. I had shoulder surgery two years ago. They have a law firm on retainer that looks to recoup money from these things, assuming they can find a third party to blame. The demoncrats passed some law about this type of thing a while back, probably under ostinky care, and they started doing this. I am betting it is the same thing with these firefighters estates. This law firm was specifically looking to see if this was an injury in which they could get money out of me. I thought it was a scam at first and threw the letters away. Finally followed up and found out it was real.

Mic911
Mic911

Absurd!!! WTF???

joaquinradioman
joaquinradioman

Why would any lawyer entertain representing the city on this....He also is guilty of having any morals as far as I'm concerned!

Branoli
Branoli

Money, pure and simple. That firm thought they would make a killing. A lot of attorneys are lower than slime.

DavidPeoria
DavidPeoria

Actually this is fairly common. You just never see it happen as in this situation. Particularly when there is a possibility of huge sums being paid out in future or pending lawsuits. The lien is on any payouts form lawsuits. Example, my own. Hurt seriously by a citizen while on duty in LE. Workmans comp paid thousands of dollars for my medical care 100%. Also paid my salary while off work for many months. I sue the citizen and get large payout. I had to reimburse workmans comp for the money they paid. Once you accept workmans comp payments, you have to reimburse them later if you sue and win a judgement.

mecajunboy
mecajunboy

Unscrupulous, insulting, embarrassing at best

JMK2244
JMK2244

Yes, "DISGUSTING" is one of the words I would use to describe this debacle. Greed is another one. There is not one shred of decency in those attempting to steal from the bereaved families of those heroes who gave their lives in this tragic fire.

Thom_in_Texas
Thom_in_Texas

Sad news in deed. However, the former mayor Annise Parker, is the mayor at the helm when this began. Mayor Parker staff is also responsible for purchase of lower quality replacement equipment in order to save money. This included radio equipment.

Scattered
Scattered

Disgusting that anybody even thought to do it let alone did it. Greed, a terrible thing. No hearts, no compassion, no conscience!!!

comprev
comprev

DavidPeoria: While I understand your comment about the city recouping from the firefighters if they had gotten reimbursed, there is one problem. If the city truly thought there was something for the firefighters to win from the location of the fire, then the city would have sued the place to recoup the costs. There would be no need to put a lien on the firefighters.

BigPapaFrosty
BigPapaFrosty

This is so wrong on so many levels! Go after the place they died trying to put out the fire!