McAllen Suing to Stop Death Benefits to Firefighter's Descendants
MCALLEN – A widow is fighting to keep her husband's death benefits.
She says he previously worked as a firefighter and died of cancer in 2012.
The benefits were awarded to her, but she says the City of McAllen wants to stop them.
Robert Torres served as a firefighter in McAllen for 26 years and was close to retirement.
Cristela Torres, his widow, says, "He was diagnosed in November of 2011 and he died exactly a year and one day later."
Cristela says Torres fought to keep his job as he battled stage four stomach cancer.
"He used every method possible in the fire department to try and stay employed as long as he could, which only lasted about nine months," she explains. “By the summer of 2012 he had to retire, he had no choice. He had to retire because he was out of days," she says.
Torres requested workers compensation claiming the cancer was an occupational disease.
The request was initially denied and Torres passed away in November of 2012.
David Garcia shortly became the family's attorney and filed for death benefits.
An administrative ruling from the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers Compensation fell in their favor.
Garcia says, "Based on the evidence he had heard, Mr. Torres had contracted and died from cancer as a result of his work activities. So the City of McAllen was ordered at that time to pay benefits."
The benefits helped the Torres family who had gone from living from two paychecks, to Cristela's sole teacher salary.
She says the benefits were meant to help with future finances.
Garcia explains, "Death benefits do extend for the life of the widow, so as long as she doesn't remarry. If she remarries, she gets an extension of two years, and for the children, until they reach the age of 18. They can be extended if they go to college; it works a lot like child support for the children."
In 2016, the City of McAllen, a self-insured governmental entity, filed an appeal.
Garcia says the city is disputing the claims the cancer was related to the job.
Garcia says, "What the City of McAllen is saying is that one, the type of cancer he has is not the type related to firefighting, and two, he's not entitled to the presumption as a matter of law."
In December, a summary judgement ruling stopped the benefits.
The benefits have since been re-instated temporarily.
Garcia says the city is requesting the decision go to a jury.
Until they find out the final result, Cristela is trying to stay strong for her kids who don't know where she spent her day today.
She says of her children, "They think I'm at training today instead of coming to court."
The City of McAllen was not present at the hearing.
CHANNEL FIVE NEWS reached out to them for comment but so far no response.
Garcia says the benefits could come to a complete stop if the Texas Supreme Court reverses the initial decision from the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers' Compensation.
Mission firefighter Homer Salinas was present in the courtroom to lend his support to the Torres family.
Salinas is in his own battle with the City of Mission fighting to keep his compensation.
Salinas is also battling cancer; his affects his kidneys.