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Thursday, September 26, 2013

PSEBA Emergency Must Involve Unforeseen Circumstances

The state courts have been fairly active in deciding what type of injury entitles a public safety officer to PSEBA benefits.  The statute requires a municipality to pay health insurance premiums for the injured employee, spouse, and dependent children if that employee has suffered a "catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty."  The statute further provides that the injury or death must have occurred as the result of one of the following: (1) response to fresh pursuit; (2) response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency; (3) an unlawful act perpetrated by another; or (4) during the investigation of a criminal act. 
In Springborn v. Village of Sugar Grove/Cecala v. Village of Carpentersville, two police officers filed claims for PSEBA benefits with their employer municipalities based on injuries they sustained in clearing roadway obstructions.  Both argued that they incurred their injuries while responding to what they reasonably believed to be emergency situations.  The appellate court focused on the factual circumstances surrounding their injuries and concluded that both incidents fell within the definition of emergency under PSEBA to qualify the officers for benefits.
 In the Sugar Grove incident, the officer encountered a roadway blocked by large chunks of asphalt that, in his opinion, created an unsafe roadway condition during rush hour.  In the Carpentersville incident, a traffic light had fallen into the roadway, and he testified that the pole had to be removed or it would create a hazardous condition for traffic.   The court noted that based on previous cases interpreting "emergency" under the PSEBA statute, an emergency must result from an unforeseen circumstance.  Here, the court found that both of the roadway situations involved unforeseen circumstances that, in the officers' opinions, required an urgent and immediate response. As a result, the appellate court upheld the officers' awards of PSEBA benefits.


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