The Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (820 ILCS 320/1) is an Illinois law which provides for the payment of the full premium of an employer’s health insurance plan for firefighters and police officers who suffer catastrophic injuries or are killed in the line of duty. This benefit is also provided for the injured or deceased employee’s spouse and any dependent children. Most people are familiar with the four basic circumstances in which an injured first responder can qualify for PSEBA benefits. These circumstances are listed in the statute itself, and they are: (1) the officer’s response to fresh pursuit; (2) the officer or firefighter’s response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency; (3) an unlawful act perpetrated by another; or (4) during the investigation of a criminal act.
It seems clear that an officer’s response to fresh pursuit, an unlawful act perpetrated by another, and an injury during the investigation of a criminal act should be relatively straightforward scenarios when determining whether an injured first responder qualifies for PSEBA. All three of these circumstances seem relatively objective. However, what about the officer or firefighter’s response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency? This is an inherently subjective standard, and it will almost always open the door to a certain level of scrutiny from a municipality as to whether the first responder’s subjective belief was objectively reasonable. Keep reading to learn more about what top workers’ compensation attorney for police officers and firefighters, Brent Eames, says about what needs to be established in a successful claim for PSEBA benefits based upon an emergency situation.
Given the uncertainty which can be created by this subject standard, our reviewing courts have attempted to provide some guidance on what factors are particularly relevant when an injured first responder claims they are responding to what they believed to be an emergency situation. In order to be considered an emergency situation, the injury must occur in response to what is reasonably believed to be an unforeseen circumstance involving imminent danger to a person or property requiring an urgent response. However, even where a situation is initially subjectively believed to be an emergency under Section 10(b) of the Act, circumstances can change to make the situation a non-emergency. It is important to focus on the time of the injury itself, and not simply the type of call received or what the first responder believed prior to assessing the scene and the alleged emergency situation.
It is also worth noting that the first responder’s subjective belief does not ultimately need to be proven correct in order to win PSEBA benefits. Our Supreme Court has established, “if the General Assembly intended to limit an “emergency” only to those events representing an actual or real threat to the public, it would not have added the modifying language “reasonably believed” to the phrase.” So, if a first responder is ultimately wrong about the alleged emergency circumstances, it should not make a difference as long as the belief was still subjectively reasonable at the time of the injury.
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The content of this blog is intended for informational purposes only and does constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship, nor constitute legal advice. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact attorney for first responders, Brent Eames, at Eames Law Group, Ltd.