Supreme Court decides in favor of Bellevue firefighters in skin cancer case

Supreme Court decides in favor of Bellevue firefighters in skin cancer case

City, Dept. of Labor fought against awarding health insurance to firefighters with melanoma

The Washington Supreme Court moved this week in favor of two Bellevue firefighters battling melanoma whose insurance benefits were rescinded by the city and state Department of Labor.

“I thought [the verdict] was great. The fact that skin cancer is a presumptive disease for firefighters, there’s kind of this promise made to us… When it was denied, it was a hard deal. Cancer’s a scary thing. Bill and I are fortunate that we were able to get through this,” one of the plaintiffs, Delmis Spivey, told the Reporter.

The case tackled a 2002 amendment to state law that makes melanoma an occupational disease for firefighters. The city and department of labor contested the allocation of industrial insurance benefits to firefighters Spivey and Wilfred A. Larson because they could not definitely prove that their cancer was caused by their work for the Bellevue Fire Department.

A physician/medical legal consultant told the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals that Larson’s work as a firefighter was likely the cause of his melanoma. Larson had been exposed to smoke, fumes, soot and toxic substances during his career.

“Firefighters are exposed to a wide variety of potential carcinogens,” lawyer Tim Friedman told the justices during their Nov. 17 hearing.

However, the dermatologist who diagnosed Larson testified that she suspected “the most contributing factor” for his melanoma was ultraviolet light exposure, according to court documents. Spivey’s dermatologist also testified that she was not aware of any evidence that linked soot, ash, smoke or toxic substances to his cancer.

It’s not possible to determine the exact cause of melanoma, according to the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society, among other medical organizations. The Washington Legislature amended the state code for firefighters seeking industrial insurance to cover skin cancer following a review that found firefighters have a statistically higher risk of melanoma.

“Nobody’s saying that it’s the sole cause or only cause, but it’s probably a contributing factor,” Spivey said, adding that he hears of many fellow firefighters dying from cancer and that fire crews are exposed to many of the same toxins seen at the Hanford nuclear clean-up site.

A jury initially ruled in Larson’s favor in 2015, while a judge ruled against Spivey. Lawyers for both parties argued the case in front of the Supreme Court in November 2016.

In their Feb. 9 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the Larson case and overturned the verdict of the Spivey case. Larson will receive his reinstated insurance benefits, as well as money to cover lawyers’ fees.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Patrick Kim. Courtesy of the Department of Licensing.
Bellevue man defrauds clients from Korean community, joins insurance fraud most wanted

Patrick Kim failed to appear at the King County Superior Court for numerous felony charges.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the first Pride flag crosswalk at Bellevue College on May 17. Courtesy of Bellevue College.
Bellevue College hosts ribbon cutting ceremony for first rainbow crosswalk

Two more rainbow crosswalks are in the works, with the second one being the Progress Pride flag.

Bellevue Downtown Association logo
Downtown Bellevue Association to host Police Chief Wendell Shirley for Q&A event

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 24, from 7:30 to 9 am at the Bellevue Club.

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

The Newport Team launches their rocket. Courtesy of AIA.
Newport High School team crowned National Champions at American Rocketry Challenge

The team will represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge this July.

Screenshot from Bellevue School Foundation website
Bellevue Schools Foundation to study affordable housing in the community

Research made possible with $250,000 grant from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund

FILE PHOTO: King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dozens of King County Sheriff’s Office employees left jobs instead of getting vaccinated

This added on to the existing number of vacancies in the department.

Most Read