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Monday, May 1, 2023

Firefighter Awarded PSEBA Benefits for Chemical Exposures During Career

After a firefighter retired, he applied for a line-of-duty disability pension for his debilitating form of cancer. The pension board awarded him a line-of-duty disability pension, determining that the firefighter's acts of duty during his 30 year career as a firefighter caused or contributed to his cancer. Following the award of the disability pension, the firefighter applied for health insurance premium benefits under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSEBA). The fire protection district denied his request for PSEBA benefits finding that he did not meet the requirements of suffering a "catastrophic injury" that resulted from an "emergency response." The firefighter challenged the denial in court, and the trial court ruled in his favor, overturning the district's denial of the PSEBA benefits

The Appellate Court upheld the trial court's ruling in favor of the firefighter, finding that the firefighter did establish that his cancer was a result of a catastrophic injury and that he had met the PSEBA eligibility requirements. Ivetic v. Bensenville Fire Protection District

First, the Appellate Court held that the phrase “catastrophic injury” under PSEBA is synonymous with “an injury resulting in a line-of-duty disability under section 4-110 of the Pension Code. So, he met the first prong of the PSEBA test when he was awarded a line-of-duty pension.

As to the second "prong" required to qualify for PSEBA benefits (the injury resulted from an "emergency response"), the Appellate Court found that the firefighter was exposed to carcinogens when he was responding to emergencies while on-duty over his 30 year career and that those exposures were either the cause of or a contributing cause of his cancer. The Court also noted that the Illinois Supreme Court had held that PSEBA covers situations arising in the performance of a public safety employee’s job. The Court concluded that the firefighter was eligible for PSEBA benefits even if the "emergency response" was not the sole cause of his disability because his exposure to chemicals during the many emergencies he responded to during his 30 year career at least contributed to his cancer. 

This case takes a very broad interpretation of the "emergency response" prong of the PSEBA test, and it will be interesting to see if the district appeals this case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Note: This case was originally posted on April 24, 2023 as an unpublished (rule 23) ruling. Subsequently, it was withdrawn and issed as a published opinion on May 22, 2023.


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