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Monday, December 21, 2020

Court Upholds City's Denial of PSEBA Benefits in Training Exercise

An Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled in favor of a municipality in a challenge to the City's decision denying PSEBA benefits to a firefighter. Heneghan v. City of Evanston

A City firefighter was injured during a live fire training exercise. He applied for and was approved for an on-duty disability pension for his injuries sustained during the training exercise. He also applied for benefits under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA) which provides health insurance benefits for public safety officers who suffer catastrophic injuries incurred under specified statutory circumstances. The City denied PSEBA benefits finding that although the injury met the first part of the Act (i.e., it was a "catastrophic injury"), it did not satisfy the second part of the Act - in this particular case, the City found that the injury was not occurred "in response to what was reasonably believed to be an emergency." 

The firefighter sued, and the trial court upheld the City's decision to deny PSEBA benefits. On appeal, the Appellate Court also ruled in the City's favor. The Court rejected the plaintiff's argument that the live fire exercise itself was the emergency and that any resulting injury satisfied the second part of the Act, finding that to be an overly broad reading of previous cases interpreting the Act. The fire itself was not the emergency, and instead the act leading to the injury must qualify as an emergency. In this case, plaintiff's fall was not due to any emergency as the emergency situation involved in this case (the failure of equipment) had been resolved before plaintiff was injured. As a result, the City's finding that plaintiff was not responding to an emergency when he was injured was not a mistake, and the City's denial of PSEBA benefits was not clearly erroneous. 


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