'Dysfunctional system' puts Shiloh taxpayers on hook for pension for cop hurt while sitting in car, lawyer says
Shiloh residents may be overpaying for an injured police officer's disability and line-of-duty pension pay because of "dysfunctional state government," according to Eugene Keefe of Chicago law firm Keefe, Campbell, Biery and Associates.
A village of Shiloh police officer, referred to only as "Officer Martin" in documents, filed a workers' compensation claim for an accident that left him unable to work in May 2012, a posting on the law firm's website said. According to the claim, he was sitting in the passenger seat of his parked patrol car while on duty when it was struck from behind by another car.
Officer Martin suffered neck and back injuries, which he claimed left him permanently disabled and eligible to receive an increased pension due to Illinois law that classified the accident as an “in the line of duty” accident, the posting said. The Police Pension Fund of the Village of Shiloh disagreed regarding the line-of-duty claim and he received a settlement in the amount of $121,761.50.
The law firm said in the posting it believes Martin was qualified only for the non-line-of-duty pension, which would give him a significantly lower pension and settlement. The firm said its opinion is based on the Illinois Pension Code’s definition of “act of duty,” which is an act “of police duty inherently involving special risk, not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life.”
But in an appeal, a Circuit Court judge reversed the pension board decision because Martin was in his squad car which meant he was required to perform extraordinary measures to protect the village if the need arose.
Later, an appeals court said when someone is driving a squad car, they must have a heightened awareness of what is going on around them and be prepared to act.
Keefe believes the court sees this as inherently involving special risk to the officer and it disagreed with the appellate judge’s decision because Martin was merely sitting in the passenger seat of the parked car, doing nothing related to police work.
To receive his pension, Martin can no longer work as a police officer, but under Illinois state law, he can work doing anything else and still receive his pension. This means the village taxpayers may one day pay for Martin’s pension while he is making money through another line of work, the posting said. Taxpayers will have to pay for Martin’s pension until his death, which means the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has already received could reach into the millions by the time the officer dies.
The Illinois Supreme Court cited Johnson v Retirement Board of the Policeman’s Annuity & Benefit Fund as an example of someone performing an action that qualifies as in-the-line-of-duty. The officer in the case slipped and fell, causing permanent disability, while crossing an intersection at the request of a citizen in need of help after a traffic accident.
Keefe does not see the correlation between the Johnson case and the Martin case. According to Keefe, Johnson was performing an act-of-duty because he was on his way to help a citizen who had extraordinary needs whereas Martin was not.
Keefe ultimately blames what it calls the "dysfunctional Illinois government" for the decisions on act-of-duty verses non-act-of-duty pensions in the posting and hopes the system will be fixed so citizens of Illinois do not have to continue paying outrageous pensions to former police officers and firefighters who are still able to work in other careers.