If you’re like many, a well-lit Christmas tree is an essential component of the holiday season. While these trees can bring cheer, they can also pose a fire hazard — with fires caused by Christmas trees being more than four times as deadly as other types of house fires. Three teenage girls unfortunately lived this statistic firsthand following a 2007 fire at their Pennsylvania duplex. Read on to learn more about the circumstances behind this tragic fire, as well as how GOM Law assisted these orphaned teens in seeking justice for the untimely deaths of their mother, father, younger sister and brother, and unborn sibling.
What led up to this fatal holiday fire?
Shortly after Thanksgiving 2007 in York, Pennsylvania, three teenage sisters helped their family get ready for the Christmas holiday by decorating a pre-lit Christmas tree they’d purchased the previous year. As what would later become the Great Recession had already begun in the country, times were tough — both mother and father were working two jobs, and the girls wanted to do what they could to provide some holiday cheer for their elementary aged sister and baby brother. The younger children helped finish decorating the tree with ornaments and ribbon, and the girls stepped back, satisfied with the job they’d done.
A few nights later, the teen sisters awoke to the sound of their father screaming. As one of the sisters made her way from the bedroom to the stairs to see what was happening, she was shocked to see yellow light flickering from below while smoke filled the duplex. The entire lower floor was engulfed in flames.
The teen girl ran back to her bedroom to fetch her two sisters, and together they leapt to safety from the top floor balcony. Sadly, their mother perished in her attempt to save the rest of her family, and died in the fire along with her husband, young daughter, baby boy, and unborn child. In the space of a single night, these teen sisters were ripped from a family of seven (soon to be eight) and turned into a family of three.
Shortly after Garcia & Ochoa of McAllen (GOM Law) was contacted for help, unraveling the cause of the fire that claimed the lives of more than half their family. This firm’s attorneys and legal team were able to determine that the lights on the Christmas tree were defective and became dangerously hot when left on overnight. As the pre-lit Christmas tree was an artificial one made with plastic “needles,” these too-hot bulbs were able to quickly ignite the tree and spread fire throughout the lower level of the duplex that night.
How did GOM Law help the victims both during and after the legal proceedings?
When GOM Law started with the case, the girls were still reeling from the emotional toll of losing their parents and siblings while also facing the very real problems of obtaining basic needs such as food, housing, and clothing and monetary support. GOM Law was able to represent these young women on a contingency fee basis — ensuring that they would never owe legal fees unless the case settled in their favor. These attorneys also quickly connected the sisters with resources to obtain them permanent housing, survivor benefits, and other financial assistance.
The attorneys at GOM Law were eventually able to negotiate a settlement with the distributor and manufacturer of the pre-lit Christmas tree and divide these funds among the sisters. Although there was nothing that could take away the lifelong pain caused by that fateful night, GOM Law was able to ensure these girls were taken care of.
Nearly a decade has passed since this fatal fire, and these sisters have grown from teenage girls to young mothers and wives: the oldest has a child, the middle is married with two children, and the youngest just graduated from college and aspires to continue her education in business management. Today, the settlement they received provides for them and enables them to continue with their lives. Though a settlement was obtained and the case came to an end, the dedication of GOM Law to their former clients did not. In the process of working the case, it became more than just a case, it became personal. The GOM Law team felt compelled to fill a void they could not even phantom. The roles of attorneys and paralegals shifted to being their protectors, advocates and advisors.
The GOM Law team could not be prouder of these girls; the attorneys Ricardo Garcia and Lino Ochoa, and their dedicated paralegal Marylou Doeppenschmidt still keep in touch with them. They are and will remain part of their family. The end of their story was only the beginning with Garcia and Ochoa of McAllen.