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Supreme Court moved this week in favor of two Bellevue firefighters battling melanoma whose insurance benefits were rescinded by the city and state Department of Labor.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

Geographic dispersion of Washington State Patrol commissioned personnel who lost their jobs Oct. 18. (Washington State Patrol)
Rather than get vaccine, nearly 1,900 state workers lose jobs

Exactly how many people will be out of work for ignoring Gov.… Continue reading

King County Courthouse adjacent to City Hall Park (courtesy of City of Seattle)
County council votes to take dangerous park out of Seattle’s hands

City Hall Park, next to the courthouse in downtown Seattle, has had multiple reports of crime.

stock image
Health care workers call on state’s hospitals to help mitigate staffing crisis

Health care workers unions claim hospitals have the resources to fix the issue.

file photo
Eastside Fire & Rescue says their response times will not be affected by absence of unvaccinated employees

Spokesperson says about 13 employees have left the department at the moment.

File photo
Do you need to pay for your COVID hospital stay?

Washington state law requires hospitals to provide free care for certain income brackets.

Stock photo
State AG Ferguson leads effort supporting local journalism

Federal legislation offers tax credits to subscribers, businesses and news organizations

C-17 at Joint Base Lewis McChord airstrip (courtesy of United States Military)
King County councilmember proposes program to aid transition of Afghan interpreters who served the U.S. overseas

Program would provide job training and learning opportunities for Afghan interpreters and advisors.

Vaccinations taking place. File photo
Inslee: No ‘massive disruptions’ as worker vax rates hit 90%

A surge in vaccinations has eased concern about service slowdowns ahead of a Monday deadline.

King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert (file photo)
Lambert removed from King County Council leadership roles

Lambert received backlash after her campaign used flyers that depicted her opponent as a puppet.

Most Read