Illinois Appellate Court Determines PSEBA CaseAuthor: Jacob D. Caudill
February 9, 2017
An Illinois appellate court recently decided a case concerning what constitutes an “emergency” under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA). At issue was whether a firefighter’s injury, which occurred while he was lifting a disabled resident from the floor to the bed, happened during an “emergency.”
Under PSEBA, fighters and other public service employees are entitled to have their own and their family’s health insurance premiums paid if they can show that their catastrophic injury occurred during an officer’s response to fresh pursuit, during a response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, because of an unlawful act by another, or during the investigation of a criminal act. In the case at issue, all parties agreed that the firefighter sustained a catastrophic injury. The only issue was whether the injury occurred during an “emergency” as defined under PSEBA.
On August 15, 2009, the plaintiff responded to an “invalid assist” call for a disabled resident who needed help being moved from the floor to the bed. During the two previous years, the department had been dispatched to this address a total of 73 times for routine invalid assists. Even for invalid assist dispatches, the department required firefighters to respond with the same level of urgency as any other call. Additionally, the court even noted that the plaintiff subjectively believed that he was responding to an emergency on the date at issue. Upon arrival, the plaintiff saw that the disabled resident simply needed assistance moving from the floor to the bed. While he was assisting the resident, the plaintiff injured his shoulder.
In upholding the denial of benefits under PSEBA, the court noted that “even if the plaintiff subjectively believed that he was responding to an emergency, what he learned when he arrived confirmed that it was not an emergency. . . . Accordingly, the plaintiff could not have reasonably believed that he was responding to an emergency when he sustained his injury.”
As such, this case illustrates that emergency responses will lose any claim to benefits under PSEBA as soon as it is discovered that the emergency does not exist.