Thursday, September 18, 2014

Police Officer Injured While Bench Pressing Is not Entitled to Disability Retirement Pension

More reps, less weight. Personal trainers are increasingly encouraging weight lifters to follow this advice in order to avoid injury. A Lake in the Hills police officer understands this better than most. The officer was participating in an annual physical fitness test that the Lake in the Hills Police Department requires each officer to complete. While the officers were required to maintain a bench press that was at a minimum in the 40th percentile of their age/sex group, the department provided bonuses to officers who could lift more. The unfortunate officer attempted to bench press an amount that would have put him in the 80th percentile for his age/sex group. In the middle of the exercise, however, he felt his shoulder “give out.” He was eventually diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and after an unsuccessful surgery, became disabled by this injury.

The Illinois Pension Code provides a disability retirement pension to officers injured performing an “act of duty.” The officer claimed that he was entitled to this disability retirement pension, arguing that the physical fitness test qualified as an “act of duty.” The pension board, however, disagreed. It held that the officer was not injured while performing an “act of duty” because the officer was not required to lift the heavier weight. Rather, he did so merely to obtain a bonus. The appellate court agreed. It held that an “act of duty “ is “imposed on a policeman by the statutes of this State or by the ordinances or police regulations of the city.” It held that because no statute or ordinance required the officer to bench press this extra weight, he was not involved in an act of duty.

It should be noted that this case was an “unpublished opinion,” which means that other courts are not required to follow it. However, the opinion cited a number of Illinois Supreme Court decisions and made a persuasive legal argument, making it likely that another court would come to a similar conclusion. Let this serve as a warning to all police officers reading this post: be careful when completing your annual physical fitness requirements. If you are injured lifting more than the minimum required weight, you may not be eligible for a disability benefit.