Illinois Supreme Court Overturns Appellate Court’s Finding of PSEBA Eligibility

Author: Brad Stewart

March 30, 2016

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court took a meaningful stride in limiting the application of PSEBA line-of-duty benefits for catastrophic injuries. We previously reported on the case of Vaughn v. City of Carbondale, in which the appellate court held that a police officer who was cleared for return to full work duty was still entitled to paid health benefits. The Supreme Court overturned the appellate court and reinstated the trial court’s decision that the officer was not entitled to continued PSEBA benefits.

Much of the issue in the underlying case involved the procedural misstep of the Police Pension Board failing to provide the officer proper notice and an opportunity for a hearing on the issue of his continued benefits. Of more general concern for municipalities was the holding that a police officer injuring himself while reaching for his dispatch radio microphone qualified as suffering a catastrophic injury “in response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency.”

The Supreme Court noted that the officer’s actions were not in response to an emergency based on the following facts:

  • Answering a dispatch call is not an unforeseen circumstance
  • Nothing unexpected developed while the officer was answering the call
  • No facts established that the dispatch call required an urgent response.

In so ruling, the Supreme Court dispelled the appellate court’s holding that every dispatch call must be presumed to be an emergency until proven otherwise.

Another interesting argument the police officer raised was that the City should be prevented from taking away his benefits because he had relied on them, an equitable estoppel argument. The Supreme Court disposed of the estoppel argument stating that the officer’s obligation to pay health insurance premiums is not sufficient reliance because nothing constituted a detrimental change in his position.

The decision marks a rare narrowing of the application of PSEBA line-of-duty benefits from what otherwise has been a wave of employee-friendly interpretations of “catastrophic injury” and “in response to an emergency.”

Brad Stewart

Author: Brad Stewart