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Appellate Court Reinstates Pension Board Denial of Line-of-Duty Disability

October 6th, 2014

 

Beckwith v. Bd. of Trustees of the Hickory Hills Police Pension Fund,                        2014 IL App (1st) 132542-U

In a recent Rule 23 opinion, the First District Appellate Court has reinstated a pension board decision denying a line of duty claim by a police officer.  The officer responded to a call for a domestic disturbance at an apartment complex.  After speaking with subjects at their apartment door but making no arrests, the officer left the apartment to return to his squad car.  He lost his footing descending the stairs.  Another officer behind him grabbed his vest to prevent him from falling down the stairs.  As a result, the officer injured his back and had to undergo surgery.

The pension board denied the officer’s request for a line of duty disability benefit but granted him a non-duty disability.  The pension board conducted a “special risk” analysis to determine whether the officer was entitled to a line of duty disability.  In short, in order for a police officer to be eligible for a line-of-duty disability, he must be engaged in some act of police duty inherently involving special risk not assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life.   The pension board reasoned that, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the call had terminated and the officer was not engaged in any act of police duty inherently involving special risk at the time of his injury.

On administrative review, the Circuit Court of Cook County reversed and granted the officer a line-of-duty pension.  The First District Appellate Court re-instated the decision of the pension board.  It found the pension board correctly determined the response to the domestic disturbance had ended.  The court pointed out the well establish principle that simply being on duty and in uniform is not sufficient for a duty disability.  Based on the evidence, the Appellate Court concluded the pension board correctly concluded, the officer was not engaged in any “special risk” activity when he was injured on the stairway.