Articles Posted in Public Benefits

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Plaintiff was employed by American since 1988. On January 1, 2012, while working as a tower planner at O’Hare, plaintiff received a call from a friend at another airline, asking plaintiff to do something for a passenger who was scheduled to fly on American. Plaintiff requested that the catering department deliver a bottle of champagne and asked a flight attendant whether it would be possible to upgrade the passenger. The passenger was upgraded to first class. Plaintiff's employment was terminated because she upgraded the passenger and requested the champagne without proper authorization. American cited employee policies concerning dishonesty. Plaintiff applied for unemployment insurance benefits with the Department of Employment Security. American protested, alleging that plaintiff was ineligible because she was “discharged for misconduct connected with [her] work,” under the Unemployment Insurance Act, 820 ILCS 405/602(A). Following a hearing, a Department referee denied plaintiff’s application. The Board of Review affirmed. The circuit court reversed, finding that the actions which led to plaintiff’s discharge did not constitute “misconduct” under the strict statutory definition. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the circuit court decision, finding no illegal or intentionally tortious conduct, nor evidence of a deliberate rule violation. View "Petrovic v. Dep't of Emp't Sec." on Justia Law

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In December, 2009, Heelan, a Vernon Hills police officer for approximately 20 years, responded to an emergency call, slipped on ice, and fell. He was ultimately diagnosed with significant osteoarthritis in both hips, aggravated by the fall, and had two hip replacement surgeries. He did not return to work. The Village Police Pension Board awarded a line-of-duty disability pension, 40 ILCS 5/3-114.1. The Village sought a declaration that it was not obligated to pay Heelan’s health insurance premium under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (the Act), 820 ILCS 320/10. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Heelan. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, Proof of a line-of-duty disability pension establishes a catastrophic injury under section 10(a) of the Act as a matter of law; a public safety officer’s employer-sponsored health insurance coverage expires upon the termination of the officer’s employment by the award of the line-of-duty disability pension. The Act lengthens such health insurance coverage beyond the termination of the officer’s employment. View "Village of Vernon Hills v. Heelan" on Justia Law

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Shelley and Christopher married in 1992. Shelley works in the private sector and has Social Security tax withheld from her pay; she expects to receive full benefits in 2033 at age 67. Christopher works for the police department and does not have Social Security tax withheld. He contributes to the Police Pension Fund and can retire with full benefits in 2017 at age 50. In their 2012 divorce, Christopher computed the estimated present value of his pension benefits, using a “Windfall Elimination Provision” to determine what part of those benefits were in lieu of Social Security, which is exempt from equitable distribution. Using Christopher’s wages, as if covered by Social Security, predicted that his Social Security benefit at age 67 would be $1,778 per month; using his wages for those years in which he contributed to Social Security, predicted that his benefit at age 67 would be $230 per month. The difference of $1,548 was posited as “in lieu of Social Security.” The difference between that amount and the pension amount was $2,479 per month, with an estimated present value of $639,720.74. The court determined that the proposed valuation would violate federal law as interpreted by Illinois Supreme Court precedent. Christopher recalculated the present value of his pension, without the offset, as $991,830. The court adopted that figure, and awarded Shelley about 35%. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that Social Security benefits cannot be calculated until the participant collects them. Decreasing Shelley’s share of Christopher’s pension based on the present value of hypothetical Social Security benefits that, even if he had participated in that program, he might never receive is illogical and inequitable. Failing to consider Social Security may paint an unrealistic picture of their future finances, but Congress intended to keep those benefits out of divorce cases. View "In re Marriage of Mueller" on Justia Law

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Zakarzecka worked as a home healthcare provider for Meuse, an elderly blind man. He required Zakarzecka to wear special shoes inside the house and to change into street shoes when answering the door or going outside. When Zakarzecka heard a deliveryman on May 10, she hurriedly attempted to change her shoes at the top of the stairwell. She fell down the stairs, breaking both wrists and suffering partial loss of the use of both hands. She sought compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act (820 ILCS 305/1). Because Meuse lacked workers’ compensation insurance, Zakarzecka named the custodian of the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund, the Illinois State Treasurer. An arbitrator awarded temporary total disability benefits and compensation for the permanent and partial loss of her hands to Zakarzecka, against the Fund. The Commission affirmed. As custodian , the Treasurer sought judicial review. The circuit court confirmed the ruling. The appellate court initially reversed. On rehearing, Zakarzecka argued, for the first time, that judicial review was barred because the Treasurer had not filed an appeal bond, a statutory prerequisite for invoking the circuit court’s jurisdiction, 820 ILCS 305/19(f)(2). Agreeing that a bond was required, the appellate court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ill. State Treasurer v. Ill. Workers' Comp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Two Chicago firefighters suffered duty-related injuries in the 1980s and later died. Their widows each received an ordinary widow’s pension from the Retirement Board of the Firemen’s Annuity and Retirement Benefit Fund of Chicago. The two widows were later awarded annuities available to widows of firemen who died in the line of duty, retroactive to the date of death of each spouse, with interest, because the injuries were permanent and had prevented them from ever returning to active duty. The widows claimed that the calculation of their annuities (based on the current salary of the position last held by the deceased) should include duty availability pay, which is generally intended to compensate firefighters for being available for duty. This type of compensation was created in the 1990s, after these firemen’s accidents, and neither ever received it. Their argument, based on Pension Code language added in 2004, was rejected by the Board and the trial court. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the denial. If duty availability pay may be used for pension calculation, it must be pay that was actually received by the firemen. View "Hooker v. Ret. Bd. of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The worker was injured in a 2006 automobile accident near Cordova, where he was working temporarily for Venture. Cordova is 200 miles from Springfield, where he lived and where his plumbers’ and pipefitters’ union was. He was living a motel 30 miles from the worksite with a coworker, also from Springfield, who was driving when the accident occurred. An arbitrator denied his workers’ compensation claim. The Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed; the trial court set aside the Commission’s finding. The Workers’ Compensation Division of the Appellate Court granted relief to the worker. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, holding that the worker was not a “traveling employee” and could not be compensated. An injury incurred by an employee in going to or returning from the place of employment is not compensable, because it is not arising out of or in the course of employment, unless the worker can be categorized as a “traveling employee.” The employer did not direct the worker to accept the position at the Cordova location; he accepted it with full knowledge of the commute involved. His course or method of travel was not determined by the demands and exigencies of the job. He was not reimbursed for travel time or expenses or told what route to take. View "The Venture-Newberg Perini Stone v. IL Workers' Compensation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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When an insurance company authorized to transact business in Illinois becomes insolvent and unable to pay claims, the Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund pays those claims after an order is entered liquidating the company, 215 ILCS 5/532. A cap on individual claims is inapplicable to workers compensation claims under the Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1. The plaintiff is the successor to Wells, a manufacturer. A Wells employee was seriously injured on the job in 1985, and, in 1993, the Industrial Commission ordered weekly lifetime benefits for total, permanent disability. Wells began to make the payments directly to the employee. Wells was self-insured, but had excess insurance from Home Insurance. After Wells’ payments to the injured employee reached $200,000, Home paid benefits until Home became insolvent in 2003 and was liquidated. The Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund took over Home’s obligations, but stopped paying the employee in 2005, arguing that payments to an excess, rather than a primary, insurer were not payments of “workers’ compensation claims” exempted from the cap. Wells continued paying the employee and sought a declaration that the Fund’s payments should continue. The circuit court agreed with Wells, awarding summary judgment, and the appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting the distinctions made by the Fund between excess and primary coverage and between payments made directly or indirectly to employees. View "Skokie Castings, Inc. v. IL Ins. Guar. Fund" on Justia Law

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The employee alleged that, while at work in 2004, he was involved in an accident that resulted in a condition for which he sought compensation. A Workers’ Compensation Commission arbitrator denied benefits, citing lack of causation, and, in 2009, the Commission adopted the decision. The trial court confirmed the denial. The appellate court vacated, finding that the lower court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The employee had calculated the 20-day time period for filing, Workers’ Compensation Act, section 19(f)(1), using the date on which required documents were mailed to the court, rather than the date on which the documents were received and file-stamped. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the so-called “mailbox rule,” which has applied to notices of appeal from the trial to the appellate court and to petitions for the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s review of arbitrators’ decisions, also applies to commencement of an action for judicial review of a Commission decision, which is an exercise of special statutory jurisdiction. Notice to the other party and the statute of limitations were not factors in this case and, absent a clear directive from the legislature, allowing the mailbox rule in such a case is most consistent with Illinois law. View "Gruszeczka v. IL Workers' Comp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Firefighters, who suffered career-ending injuries during required training exercises, obtained line-of-duty disability pensions and sought continuing health coverage under the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act, 820 ILCS 320/10, which requires employers of full-time firefighters to pay health insurance premiums for the firefighter and family if the firefighter suffers a catastrophic injury as a result of a response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency. The trial court dismissed a declaratory judgment action by one firefighter and affirmed denial of the insurance benefit for one firefighter. The appellate court affirmed. The supreme court held that an "emergency" means an unforeseen circumstance calling for urgent and immediate action and can arise in a training exercise. The other firefighter had obtained a declaratory judgment, which was affirmed by the appellate court. The supreme court distinguished the situation because, although he was instructed to "respond as if it were an actual emergency," he was not injured while making an urgent response to unforeseen circumstances involving an imminent danger to person or property. View "Gaffney v. Bd. of Tr. of Orland Fire Prot. Dist." on Justia Law

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For 12 months following his injury, plaintiff, a police officer injured on duty, received salary under the Public Employee Disability Act. For a short time thereafter, he received salary through a combination of accrued sick and vacation time, light duty, and temporary total disability payments under the Workers’ Compensation Act. While plaintiff received salary under PEDA, the city deducted 20 percent of his health insurance premiums from his paycheck, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. After PEDA benefits expired, plaintiff continued to pay 20 percent of the premiums. When he was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension under the Illinois Pension Code, the city began paying 100 percent of the premiums, as required by the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act, 820 ILCS 320/10(a). Plaintiff's request for reimbursement for premiums paid since the date of injury was refused. The circuit court entered summary judgment for the city. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court. Under PSEBA, an employer's obligation to pay the entire health insurance premium for an injured officer and his family attaches on the date that it is determined that the injury is "catastrophic," the date it is determined that the injured officer is permanently disabled and eligible for a line-of-duty disability pension. View "Nowak v. City of Country Club Hills" on Justia Law