3-14-2011; Breathless in Naperville--whew, firefighter denied lifetime line-of-duty disability pension for cigarette smoking

 In the “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” category, we reviewed a recent ruling by the Second District Appellate Court in which they considered a claim by a firefighter seeking lifetime line-of-duty disability pension benefits. Many observers were concerned when Illinois hyper-aggressive firefighter unions were able to get the controversial “firefighter’s presumption” for things like pulmonary conditions in Illinois workers’ compensation, the same presumption might start to be followed in disability pension claims. This decision appears to indicate that may not be happening.

In Lindemulder v. The Board of Trustees of the Naperville Firefighters' Pension Fund, (No. 2-10-0063 March 8, 2011), the Appellate Court found the Circuit Court properly affirmed the Pension Board's decision denying Plaintiff firefighter's application for line-of-duty pension and occupational disease pension.

The facts indicate Plaintiff Lindemulder, age 50 was exposed to second-hand smoke during his childhood and thereafter. There is no dispute he began smoking cigarettes regularly at age 16 or 17. During his employment with Naperville as a firefighter, he smoked one to one and one-half packs per day for years and eventually suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

A physician certified Plaintiff had COPD from years of smoking which rendered him unable to tolerate physical demands of his job as a firefighter. Plaintiff failed to prove he was exposed to occupational diesel fumes or that such fumes caused or aggravated COPD. Various physicians testified a lifetime of cigarette smoking was the likely cause of his COPD.

The Circuit and Appellate Court agreed the Illinois Pension Code required the firefighter who may have been subject to heavy smoke fumes on the job must prove that disability resulted from service as firefighter and not from the personal decision to smoke cigarettes.

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