By: Andrew B. Bryant
On February 6, 2018, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a significant decision safeguarding healthcare benefits for injured public safety employees under the Illinois Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (“PSEBA”) (820 ILCS 320/1 et seq).
In the case, a City of Des Plaines Police Officer stopped a truck for operating with an apparently overweight load. At a local weigh station, the overweight violation was confirmed by the officer. The officer then climbed a ladder to inspect the truck’s load in order to complete administrative paperwork required by the City. While climbing the ladder, the officer injured his leg and was ultimately diagnosed with left medial and lateral meniscus tears in his left knee, ending his police career. The officer was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension, but his petition for healthcare benefits under the PSEBA was contested by the City. The City argued that although the officer suffered a qualifying “catastrophic” injury under the PSEBA, the activity that the officer was engaged in at the time of the injury was not a qualifying activity that warranted the award of healthcare benefits under the PSDEBA.
Under the PSEBA, healthcare benefits can be awarded to public safety employees when a qualifying injury occurs as a result of (1) response to fresh pursuit, (2) response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, (3) the unlawful act perpetrated by another, or (4) the investigation of a criminal act. The Court noted the officer was clearly not engaged in fresh pursuit or responding to an emergency, and the traffic code violation did not qualify as a “criminal act” under Illinois law. Therefore, the case turned on whether the officer was injured as a result of the truck driver’s unlawful act of hauling an overweight load. In affirming the trial court’s award of PSEBA healthcare benefits, the Appellate Court held that the officer was duty bound to take action in response to the truck driver’s violation of the law. Therefore, as the officer’s injury was indisputably a clear consequence and effect of the truck driver’s unlawful act of driving his truck in contravention of the Illinois Vehicle Code, the injury occurred because of an unlawful act perpetrated by another as set forth in the PSEBA.
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