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Friday, February 17, 2012

Supreme Court Adopts New Test for “Emergency” to Qualify for PSEBA Benefits

Hot off the presses - this morning, the Illinois Supreme Court established a new test to define an “emergency” for purposes of eligibility for PSEBA benefits. In Gaffney v. Orland Fire Protection District, the Supreme Court consolidated the appeals of two appellate court opinions in cases involving injuries incurred by firefighters in training exercises.  In one case, the appellate court had determined that a firefighter injured in a training exercise was eligible for PSEBA benefits; in the other, the court determined that the training exercise did not involve an “emergency” for PSEBA purposes.  The Supreme Court reversed both rulings, coming to the opposite conclusion in each case. 

Under PSEBA, a public safety officer is eligible for health benefits if the officer suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty as a result of (1) a response to fresh pursuit; (2) a response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency; (3) an unlawful act of another; or (4) the investigation of a criminal act.  The appellate court defined an “emergency” under PSEBA as a situation that “it is urgent and calls for immediate action.”  The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s definition, but added a new requirement – that the urgency or immediate action must result from an “unforeseen circumstance or event” that results in imminent danger to person or property. 

The Court applied the new test to the training exercises involved in the consolidated cases.  With respect to Gaffney’s injury, the Court determined that the live fire exercise qualified as an “emergency” under PSEBA because his injury resulted when a hose was unexpectedly entangled in a smoke-filled building.  Lemmene’s knee injury, on the other hand, resulted from a training exercise that was conducted under planned, controlled conditions, not involving a live fire or any imminent danger; as a result, there were no unforeseen circumstances to qualify as an emergency for PSEBA benefits.

The dissent disagreed with the majority's adoption of an "unforseen circumstances" requirement to the test for an emergency under PSEBA.  The dissent would also have denied PSEBA benefits to both Gaffney and Lemmene because both firefighters were aware they were participating in training exercises.

The Illinois Municipal League had filed amicus briefs in these two cases arguing that training exercises should not be considered “in response to an emergency” for purposes of eligibility for PSEBA benefits.  Unfortunately for local governments anxiously awaiting this decision, the Supreme Court did not agree with the IML's position.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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