Ten years after the devastating fire at the Greenwood Nursing Home in Hartford, the blaze has helped bring changes to national laws.

However, victims' families are still engaged in a bitter legal battle that's reached the United States Supreme Court.

"There's many firefighters that are still on the job today that responded to this call," said Hartford Fire Capt. James McLaughlin. "It will be etched in their memories forever."

On Feb. 26, 2003 just before 3 a.m., McLaughlin got a call that he will never forget.

"There was a tremendous amount of chatter on the radio and talk about occupied rooms in the nursing home," he said.

That morning, there were 148 people inside the Greenwood Nursing Home and most of them were elderly people, who were sleeping at the time.

"It was dark smoky hallway," McLaughlin said. "You literally couldn't see the hands in front of your face."

McLaughlin said he remembers the fire being contained to one room, but because there were no sprinkler systems, it continued to rage on much longer than it should have.

In this case, it wasn't the flames, but the smoke that proved deadly.

"The significant amount of smoke was really what hindered a lot of progress and which is what took most of the lives," McLaughlin said.

According to fire officials, there were 10 people trapped inside the building, who died that morning, and another six died days later from injuries suffered in the fire. There were 23 people who were injured.

"Many, many more were rescued and are still alive today as a result of the Hartford firefighters that day," McLaughlin said.

Officials said the fire was started by Leslie Andino, who was 23 at the time and believed to be mentally ill. Investigators said she lit her blankets on fire with a lighter.

Andino, who was found mentally unfit to stand trial, is currently at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown.

Even before the smoke cleared and the death toll was finalized, the questions from families started to pour in.

"To their surprise, some of these things, for instance, not having fire alarms in each room and not having sprinklers were surprising to them," said attorney David Siegel, who started the lawsuit against the Lexington Healthcare Group, the owners of the Greenwood Nursing Home.

"We know now that sprinkler systems in a nursing home would've been a contributing factor towards a reduction of life loss and the reduction of smoke and fire spread," McLaughlin said.

The fire started a nationwide change, which required nursing homes to have sprinkler systems in place in order to collect on Medicaid and Medicare.

The Greenwood Nursing Home, which now operates under a new name and new owner, was one of the first to make those changes.

"They took the initiative to retrofit all the rooms and as far as what I've heard, do the right things as far as safety plans and things of that nature," Siegel said.

While Hartford officials can pull some comfort from this fire, there's no solace for the victims or their families.

"It's tragic that 16 people lost their lives no doubt, but this identified a deficiency across the nation and the appropriate adjustments have been made and we hope that what happened will save someone's life in the future," McLaughlin said.

It's been 10 years and there's still no resolution for them. The lawsuit filed on behalf of 13 victims is tied up in the United States Supreme Court over a question over the insurance policy.

"They've lived with this lawsuit for a long time now and hopefully it will get resolved in the near future," Siegel said.

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David Siegel legal analysis​
​Greenwood Nursing Home FIre
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WTNH Video
​David Siegel commenting on Greenwood Fire Supreme Court decision
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Court: $1M available for fire victims' families
Updated: Monday, 10 Jun 2013, 6:06 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 10 Jun 2013, 10:50 AM EDT

Jamie Muro

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A decision Monday, from the state Supreme Court in a 2003 nursing home fire in Hartford that killed 16 patients. The ruling on how much money the victims' families could get is probably not what most wanted to hear.

It took a decade, but a decision finally is made by the highest court in the state. The Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that families suing a Hartford nursing home, where 16 patients died in a 2003 fire, can share up to one million from the facility's insurance policy.

"If you look at one million and divide it by the 23 families, that comes out to $43,478 dollars per head," said David Siegel.

David Siegel is a West Hartford lawyer who represents one of the families. He says the ruling isn't about value of a life, if there can even be such a thing, rather the judges had to interpret what is written in contract by Boston-based Lexington Insurance company who insured the Greenwood Health Center.

"It took ten years to get where we are now. It was a lot of contractual issues, this whole case is governed by contract law. When you have insurance policies, the contract is paramount. The court looked at the contract, they will not re-write a contract," said Siegel.

Sixteen dead, seven others injured, years in litigation, may come down to $43,000 or as David Siegel suggests, maybe less, possibly depending on the severity of each individual case.

When asked if there is no other recourse here, Siegel said, "no, that's it, that's the end of the road. So they may mediate the cases to try to settle them, at a maximum of $43,000 per incident, they may offer something less than that, some cases may settle."

The victim's families had argued the insurance policy provided up to ten million in coverage but Lexington argued the ten million was for all seven nursing homes owned by Greenwood's owner and each location was insured for one million.

                     THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF
                               DISTINGUISHED COUNSEL

                                        ​PRESS RELEASE

​David H. Siegel has been selected to the 2015 list as a member of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. NADC is an organization dedicated to promoting the highest standards of legal excellence. Its mission is to objectively recognize the attorneys who elevate the standards of the Bar and provide a benchmark for other lawyers to emulate.

​Members are thoroughly vetted by a research team, selected by a blue ribbon panel of attorneys with podium status from independently neutral organizations, and approved by a judicial review board as exhibiting virtue in the practice of law. Due to the incredible selectivity of the appointment process, only the top one percent of attorneys in the United States are awarded membership in NADC. This elite class of advocates consists of the finest leaders of the legal profession from across the nation.