Yesterday, in Village of Vernon Hills v. Heelan, 2015 IL 1181170, the Illinois Supreme Court revisited the Court’s definition of “Catastrophic Injury” as used in Section 10(a) of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Safety Act (“PSEBA”). The purpose of PSEBA is to provide employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for public safety employees (police and firefighters) and the families of public safety officers who are either killed or “catastrophically injured” in the line of duty.
The PSEBA statute does not contain a definition of “catastrophic injury” so the courts have defined its meaning. In Krohe v. City of Bloomington, 204 Ill. 2d 392 (2003), the Illinois Supreme Court previously held that a catastrophic injury is synonymous with an injury resulting in a line-of-duty disability pension.
The Village argued that Krohe did not hold that receipt of a line-of-duty disability pension “automatically entitled” an injured party to PSEBA benefits or that the granting of a line-of-duty disability pension by a pension board necessarily satisfied the elements of proof of a catastrophic injury under Section 10(a) of the Act. The Court rejected this argument stating “that is exactly what this court held in Krohe” and subsequent cases.
Ultimately, the Court in Village of Vernon Hills held that because the Illinois legislature intended an injured public safety employee to be eligible for PSEBA benefits whenever his of her injuries were sufficient to qualify for a line-of-duty disability pension, the pension board’s award establishes “as a matter of law” that the employee suffered a catastrophic injury under Section 10(a) of the Act.
As a result, where it is it undisputed that a line-of-duty disability pension has been awarded, Section 10(a) is satisfied. The Court declined the Village’s invitation to depart from its prior precedent noting that the legislature has not altered the Court’s construction of “catastrophic injury” as used in Section 10(a) of the Act. Accordingly, the Court’s interpretation is “considered part of the statute itself” until the legislature amends the PSEBA statute otherwise.