Almost two years after Raul Hernandez died from electric shock received while pulling his little brother out of a malfunctioning Hilton hotel pool, his family has reached a financial settlement with the hotel operators of Hilton Westchase.
On August 31, 2013, 27-year-old Raul Hernandez and his girlfriend, Lorena Mendoza, and her daughter had just gotten back into town from vacation. The couple was staying in the Westchase Hilton Hotel and invited Raul's family to come over and go swimming.
They'd spent the afternoon splashing around the pool, but it was getting late and most of the families had already left. Hernandez was sitting on the side of the pool with his girlfriend, while Hernandez's mother, Maria Isabel Duran, was in the middle of the pool. Hernandez's little brother David was in the deep end at the time.
Duran called to David that it was time to get out of the pool and the child was moving toward the edge when the underwater lights snapped on and his body began convulsing.
Duran was lunging through the water toward her son when the electric current began snaking through her body. She couldn't see, she couldn't move or think or feel anything but the pain. The thrum of electricity filled her ears. Her muscles and nerves were on fire. No one knew what was happening, but Hernandez jumped into the water, going for his baby brother first.
A member of the University of Houston powerlifting team, Hernandez was strong and he made it to David. He thrust his brother toward the side of the pool and screamed for someone to get him. A bystander rushed up, grabbed hold of David and pulled him out. Hernandez and Duran were still in the pool. Somehow in the confusion, the lights were turned off and someone was able to get the two out of the water without being electrocuted.
One of the bystanders was a doctor, who was able to get Duran breathing again, but Hernandez was unresponsive. By the time the ambulance arrived, he'd been out for nearly 20 minutes.
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Days later, he died in the Intensive Care Unit. By then they knew what had happened. A contractor had done work on the pool recently, according to court documents. The pool should have been fitted with mechanisms set up to automatically shut off if anything went wrong, but there weren't any.
Duran filed wrongful death lawsuits against Hilton Worldwide Inc., Interstate Hotels and Resorts LLC, WS Westchase LLC, Interstate Westchase LP, Westchase Tenant LLC, Interstate Management Co. LLC, and Brown Electric Inc. Brown Electric was responsible for recent electric work on the pool in late 2013. The family members will be paid a settlement by the hotel's owner and operator in addition to the previous settlement paid by Brown Electric, the company whose electricians were charged with criminally negligent homicide.
The settlement was finalized on Monday in Harris County District Court. Hernandez's little brother David and Mendoza's young daughter both received part of the settlement as did Duran and Mendoza. The settlement details are confidential.
"Our lives were forever changed that day at the Hilton hotel. Our hope is that the lessons learned from this tragedy will mean that companies responsible for swimming pools will not cut corners and risk the lives of their guests," said family spokesman Carlos Hernandez Jr in a release issued Monday. "This was a senseless loss that easily could have been prevented."