Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Court Upholds Local Pension Board Decision Denying Surviving Spouse Benefits

Recently, an Illinois Apellate Court upheld the decision of a local pension board to deny surviving spouse benefits to the wife of a police officer whose death was found to be caused by his preexisting heart condition rather than the result of engaging in “an act of duty”. Vargas v. The Town of Cicero Police Pension Fund, et al.

A police officer collapsed suddenly while walking into his station for roll call, and was later pronounced dead. The officer had a history of high blood pressure, persistent chest pain, and elevated cholesterol, and his cause of death was determined by the medical examiner to be “coronary arteriosclerosis,” or the buildup of plaque in his arteries surround his heart. The officer’s wife filed a claim for federal benefits, which was granted, as well as a surviving spouse pension under the Illinois Pension Code. Citing the activities her husband had engaged in at work the day prior to his death (including a short foot chase of a suspect), the officer's wife argued her husband's death was aggravated by his on-duty activities and that she was entitled to a state pension.

After a hearing before the municipality’s police pension board (Board), the officer's wife was denied surviving spouse pension benefits because her husband’s death was found not to have resulted from “the performance of an act of duty” under the Pension Code. This finding was based on a collection of expert medical opinions which generally concluded that the officer’s death was a result of “uncontrolled cardiac risk factors.” While his wife presented contrary medical opinions, the Board determined she failed to prove that some act of duty actually aggravated or caused his death. She then appealed the pension board’s decision, but the lower court upheld the denial of pension benefits.

The Appellate Court reviewed the Board’s decision and found that its factual findings were not against “the manifest weight of the evidence,” meaning that the officer's wife could not show that the Board had clearly made an error in denying her a pension. Because this standard is highly deferential, and because the Board in this case had carefully weighed the medical evidence and other facts surrounding the officer’s death, the Appellate Court upheld the Board's denial of surviving spouse pension benefits.

Post Authored by Erin Monforti & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


Post a Comment