Illinois Appellate Court Rules on PSEBA


February 19, 2018

An Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled on a case concerning the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (the Act). The question before the court concerned the “unlawful act by another” provision under section 10(b) of the Act and how it related to a police officer’s injury.

Specifically, the injury occurred during an officer’s stop of an overweight vehicle. After the semitrailer was stopped and weighed, the officer ascended the ladder to inspect the vehicle’s load. While he was going up the ladder, he felt a “pop” in his knee. The officer then descended and completed the necessary paperwork and citation. The officer eventually needed to undergo knee replacement surgery. Both parties agreed that the injury was “catastrophic.”

However, the City denied the officer’s request for benefits under section 10(b) of the Act on the theory that the injury did not occur under one of the four circumstances identified in section 10(b). Section 10(b) states, in pertinent part, as follows:

(b) In order for the law enforcement, correctional or correctional probation officer, firefighter, spouse, or dependent children to be eligible for insurance coverage under this Act, the injury or death must have occurred as the result of [1] the officer’s response to fresh pursuit, [2] the officer or firefighter’s response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, [3] an unlawful act perpetrated by another, or [4] during the investigation of a criminal act.” 820 ILCS 320/10(b).

As a result of the denial, the officer filed a declaratory action against the City, alleging that the injury occurred in response to an unlawful act perpetrated by another. In response, the City claimed that the injury did not occur during the actual commission of an unlawful act because the officer’s injury “was sustained after the truck had already been stopped and during his subsequent inspection of the truck’s load.” The Circuit Court ruled in favor of the officer and found that the health insurance benefits delineated in section 10(b) applied. Specifically, the circuit court equated “as a result of” with the concept of “proximate cause.”

On appeal, the circuit court analyzed the meaning of “as a result of” as used in the Act. As the statute did not define the phrase “as a result of,” the Court looked to dictionaries to define the common meaning of the phrase. In doing so, the court determined that the injury was clearly a consequence of the driver’s unlawful conduct and the officer was entitled to benefits under section 10(b) of the Act. The Court reasoned that though the officer had already determined that the vehicle was overweight, the officer still needed to look at the “type of load” so that he could fulfill his duties as a police officer (completing the overweight report and issuing a citation). However, while the appellate court came to the same conclusion as the circuit court, the appellate court refused to equate “as a result of” with the concept of “proximate cause.”

One justice dissented, raising a concern that such a decision will expand the scope of benefits under the Act.  While only time will tell if such a concern is correct, we will continue to monitor how courts interpret the Act.