A Mission firefighter will appear in court again next month as he continues his fight to receive worker’s compensation.
Lt. Homer Salinas, a veteran of the Mission Fire Department since 2002, was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2017 and successfully fought in court to receive workers’ compensation from the city’s health insurance carrier to assist him in paying for his cancer treatment.
However, in 2019, Texas Municipal League filed a lawsuit against Salinas on behalf of the city of Mission to prevent the cancer-stricken firefighter from receiving roughly $100,000 for four surgeries he underwent from 2017 through 2018.
Salinas, who appeared in district court for the latest hearing of the case last week, said he was frustrated by TML’s tactics.
Previously, Salinas went before a benefit review council twice and an appeals court to contest TML’s decision. All ruled in favor of Salinas receiving compensation, the firefighter said.
“And now they’re attempting to overturn what three courts have ruled by suing me to recoup all the money,” Salinas said of TML. “They do this a lot. It’s a scare tactic to tire you out from fighting and spending a lot on lawyers.”
TML originally argued that Salinas did not meet the qualifications to receive worker’s compensation as there was nothing linking Salinas’ cancer diagnosis with his job as a firefighter despite data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health finding that cancer is the “most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today,” and “cancer caused 63 percent of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from January 1, 2002 to December 31, 2017” based on additional data from the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The city of Mission ended up suing TML for Salinas to receive his benefits in 2017. Two years later, TML sued Salinas on behalf of the city to appeal the decision in district court.
The TML lawsuit from the city was enacted because the city’s interlocal agreement with TML waives all the city’s legal rights to TML, leaving the insurance carrier with the authority to take all legal action without authority from the city, according to the Mission Firefighters Association.
The city had previously stated they were unaware of the lawsuit against Salinas prior to him being served and never instructed TML to file one.
During the Jan. 22 court hearing in front of 275th District Court Judge Marla Cuellar, lawyers for TML asked for more time as they’ve yet to find an expert witness, which Judge Cuellar granted by setting a docket control conference for Thursday, Feb. 11.
Salinas said his lawyer has filed a motion to strike the case as the deadline for TML to assign an expert witness to the case was set 15 months prior to the January hearing.
“We won’t know much until February 11 to see if the judge will uphold the strike. We’re in limbo until that happens,” Salinas said. “Now I’m just going through everyday life and working and hope the court will rule in my favor as previous courts did.”
Mike Silva, president of the Mission Firefighters Association, said Salinas’ case is one many that firefighters are facing.
“It’s unfortunate, the city has an obligation to its employees to ensure they’re protected but TML seems to have the city pretty much cornered in its interlocal agreement that they have no say,” Silva said. “Bottom line is it comes down to using taxpayers’ dollars to fight against their own employees. It’s a very big step in the right direction if we were to win, and I’m confident we will. It’s just a whole legal process we have to go through to show to the rest of the state of Texas that firefighters are very strong and will not give up on the legal battle we shouldn’t be dealing with anyway.”
Salinas said the legal ordeal has taken a toll on him and his family. Despite conquering cancer, he still must go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston once a year for three days of testing for the rest of his life, he said.
“Every day I try not to think of this, but the struggle is there. I’ve broken down about it multiple times,” Salinas said. “I’ve proven my point three times in court but we’re still going through this process. It’s a burden on my family and me that hurts. I was a volunteer fireman; this is my community and it feels ugly to be sued here. It’s a struggle I have to put aside before getting on the fire truck and doing my job.”