City and firefighter's family talk about possible settlement

Memphis attorneys and the family of a firefighter injured during Hell Night are talking about a possible settlement.

The former recruit spent nearly two months in a coma and now the family wants the city to pay up.

It was all about alleged hazing at the Memphis fire department during a training event commonly called "hell night".  But while the City is anxious to wrap up the still outstanding case, that firefighter's lawyer is saying "not so fast."

Memphis City leaders promise their firefighter training has changed since some controversial October 2004 video was recorded.  On the video, you can see a supervisor telling recruits, "You swing that axe like a little girl" and "I don't think you're going to make it you better hurry your butts up!"

Firefighters called it hell night and it was at this same event that firefighter James Coleman suffered heat stroke and - his attorney explains - slipped into a two-month coma.

"When you have a supervisor challenging your manhood, telling you that they'd have to carry me off in a bodybag before I quit, but why don't you go ahead and quit, it sends the message to these guys that we can't quit.," explained attorney Jeff Rosenblum.  He says it means, "we've got to push.  We've got to push.  Even though our bodies are telling us to quit."

Six other recruits were treated for dehydration that night.  And James Coleman's family hired Rosenblum to file a lawsuit.

Now - nearly three years later, the city says it's ready to settle.

"I think we've really reached agreement and it's a matter of working through the documents and getting to settlement," says City Attorney Sara Hall.

The City is offering Coleman disability pay through the pension system and money for himself and his children.  But it's nothing close to the $15 million Coleman's family asked for in their suit.  And it may not be enough.

"It is not a done deal as of yet," says Rosenblum.  "We remain hopeful.  We remain optimistic.  We are continuing to work with the city to get it done but it's not done yet."

If they can't reach agreement, Rosenblum says he's ready to go to trial.

Neither Coleman's attorney nor City Attorney Sara Hall would share with us the specifics of the settlement proposal on the table.  Both parties have a status conference - before a judge - scheduled for Thursday.  At that point, they'll decide where they go from here.