Illinois Supreme Court Rules That Occupational Disease Disability Pension Does Not Automatically Satisfy Catastrophic Injury Requirement of PSEBA

January 10, 2017

On December 30th, the Illinois Supreme Court decided an important Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (“PSEBA”) case that distinguishes between the effect of a “line of duty disability” under Section 4-110 and an “occupational disability” under Section 4-110.1 of the Pension Code. In Bremer v. City of Rockford, 2016 IL 119889, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a finding that a Rockford Firefighter, who received an occupational disability pension, satisfied the catastrophic injury requirement of Section 10 (a) of PSEBA. The Rockford firefighter was awarded an occupational disability pension due to heart disease from his service as a firefighter. The City of Rockford denied PSEBA benefits to the firefighter, and the firefighter filed suit in the Winnebago County Circuit Court. The Circuit Court, on cross motions for summary judgment, reversed the City and granted PSEBA benefits. The Appellate Court found that an occupational disability pension under Section 4-110.1 satisfied the catastrophic injury requirement of Section 10 (a) of PSEBA. In reversing the Circuit Court’s determination, the Supreme Court noted a clear difference between a line of duty disability pension and an occupational disability pension. The Supreme Court emphasized several prior decisions that found a line of duty disability under Section 4-110 as synonymous with a catastrophic injury under Section 10 (a) of the PSEBA statute. However, the Supreme Court noted that an occupational disability pension involved different considerations and clearly did not satisfy the legislature’s intent to qualify for a catastrophic injury under Section 10 (a) of PSEBA. The Supreme Court noted, “While there may be legitimate policy reasons for expanding the definition of ‘catastrophic injury,’ any such change must come from the legislature, not this court.” Therefore, while a line of duty disability pension qualifies as a catastrophic injury under Section 10 (a) of PSEBA, an occupational disability pension does not.

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