Illinois Supreme Court Decides Case Concerning PSEBA

Author: Jacob D. Caudill

January 3, 2017

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court decided a case concerning the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA). At issue was whether the phrase “catastrophic injury” in PSEBA is synonymous with an injury that resulted in an occupational disease disability pension being awarded.

Under PSEBA, employers are required to pay the health insurance premiums of former public safety officers if those public safety officers suffered a “catastrophic injury.” The Illinois Supreme Court has previously addressed what constitutes a “catastrophic injury,” finding it to be synonymous with an injury that results in a line-of-duty disability pension being awarded.

In the case at issue, the plaintiff was awarded an occupational disease disability pension after the Pension Board found that plaintiff’s cardiomyopathy resulted from the performance of his duties as a firefighter. Three years later, the plaintiff was informed that his health insurance premiums would no longer be paid by his occupational disease disability pension. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff applied for benefits under PSEBA, claiming that the award of an occupational disease disability pension was synonymous with a “catastrophic injury,” similar to how an award of a line-of-duty disability pension was synonymous. The City denied his application and the plaintiff brought suit.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the plaintiff was entitled to PSEBA benefits. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the “catastrophic injury” requirement of PSEBA was satisfied by the award of an occupational disease disability pension. The case was subsequently appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts’ interpretation of what constitutes a “catastrophic injury.” Specifically, the Supreme Court stated that the “[p]laintiff cannot establish a catastrophic injury under [PSEBA] by simply showing that he suffered an injury from his service as a firefighter or an injury that occurred in the course of his employment. Rather, he must establish an injury that resulted in a line-of-duty pension under [the] Pension Code.”

As such, being awarded an occupation disease disability pension does not automatically entitle the recipient to benefits under PSEBA.

Author: Jacob D. Caudill