Bellingham WA Settles Suit With Firefighter’s Widow

The widow of a Bellingham firefighter has agreed to settle her lawsuit against the city for $750,000. Sheila Hanlon filed suit in 2021 claiming that the cancer death of her husband, Neil Carlberg, was work-related and qualifying for line-on-duty death benefits even though he was retired.

Carlberg, a 33-year veteran of the Bellingham Fire Department, died of esophageal cancer in 2018. He retired in 2011. A copy of the complaint is not available, and from news reports it is not entirely clear what legal theories were pursued in the suit. The online court docket lists the case as a wrongful death suit. Media reports characterize the case as an “occupational disease lawsuit” and say Hanlon was seeking “benefits and honors that are reserved for firefighters who are killed in the line of duty.”

Last week, the Bellingham City Council unanimously voted to settle Hanlon’s suit $750,000. Washington state has a rather complicated cancer presumption law for firefighters. The law limits the firefighters to whom it applies, the cancers covered, and the applicability of the presumption to retired firefighters (sixty-months – 5 years – from the last date of employment). Here is a link to the cancer presumption statute.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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