David Hancock, a former police officer employed by the Village of Itasca who suffered a line-of-duty injury sought declaratory judgment that the Village was obligated, pursuant to Section 10(a) of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA), 820 ILCS 320/10(a), to pay the entire premium for his coverage under the Village’s health insurance plan. The trial court granted summary judgment in the Village’s favor and the appellate court affirmed. Last month, the Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.
Hancock was originally injured on April 10, 1992, during an exchange of gunfire with a bank robbery suspect and was struck in the right hand by shotgun ammunition. He suffered fractures in his right hand, but was able to return to full duty in 1994. In 2000, he was involved in an on-duty motor vehicle accident and suffered a contusion to his right hand, but was released for full duty. While on duty on November 4, 2000, Hancock became involved in the arrest of a fleeing motorist and attempted to draw his firearm. He had difficulty maintaining his grip and nearly dropped it. His physician evaluated his hand a few days later and found him unfit to return to duty. In 2001, the Itasca Police Officers’ Pension Board found that, as a result of the 1992 shooting, Hancock was disabled for service in the Police Department and was entitled to a line-of-duty disability pension.
Between 1992 and 2000, Illinois enacted PSEBA, effective in November 1997. PSEBA requires employers to pay the entire premium of any officer’s health insurance when that officer suffers a “catastrophic injury” on or after the effective date of the PSEBA.
Hancock filed suit in 2013 and argued that his injury became catastrophic in 2001 when the Pension Board found he was entitled to a line-of-duty pension (rather than 1992, before PSEBA was enacted) and that the five-year statute of limitations should be tolled until 2011, when the Illinois Supreme Court in Nowak v. City of Country Club Hills, 2011 IL 111838, held that “catastrophic injury” meant “an injury resulting in a line-of-duty disability.” Hancock argued that, prior to the 2011 Nowak decision, he did not know he qualified for PSEBA benefits.
The Appellate Court rejected his argument and found that Hancock’s claim was barred by the five-year statute of limitations. The Court held that the Nowark decision did not toll the statute of limitations even though it settled a unsettled point of law. A statute of limitations is generally tolled until a party knows or reasonably should have known that an injury occurred and that it was wrongly caused – even if the claim depends on unsettled points of law.
Hancock filed a petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court. The petition was denied on September 28, 2016.