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Friday, September 25, 2015

Court Stands by its Interpretation of Catastrophic Injury Under PSEBA

Under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA), when a public safety officer suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty, the officer's employer is required to pay the entire health insurance premium for the injured employee, spouse, and dependent children. There is significant debate as to what constitutes a "catastrophic injury" under PSEBA. 

In 2003, in Krohe v. City of Bloomington, the Illinois Supreme Court held that "catastrophic injury" was synonymous with an injury resulting in a lien-of-duty disability under the Pension Code.  That issue was raised again in Vernon Hills v. Heelan, 2015 IL 118170, decided yesterday. 

Heelan was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension related to an injury he suffered when he slipped on ice responding to an emergency call. He subsequently filed for PSEBA benefits, but the Village denied the benefits and filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether it was responsible for paying the health insurance premiums. Although the Village acknowledged the holding in Krohe, it argued that the facts and circumstances of Heelan's injury were distinguishable. Both the circuit court and appellate court applied Krohe to Heelan's injury, and held that the Village was required to pay PSEBA benefits. 

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, holding that a catastrophic injury under PSEBA is synonymous to a line-of-duty disability under the Pension Code.  As a result, once Heelan was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension, he was entitled to PSEBA benefits. The Court declined to depart from its decision in Krohe, and supported its decision by noting that the legislature could have, but has not, amended PSEBA after Krohe.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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