Synopsis: The “Opposite”--Can Illinois Start To Make Sense of How We Spend Taxpayer’s Money?
Editor’s comment: Reading the decision below, we recalled the episode for the Seinfeld series where George Costanza’s character was convinced "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right". George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally. We assure our readers it is our impression just about everything occurring in IL politics and some local governments needs to consider this mantra and “do the opposite.”
In Village of Vernon Hills v. Heelan, No. 118170, issued 09/24/2015, Claimant Heelan was a 20-year veteran of the Vernon Hills Police Department. He is a young 48-years-old today. He slipped and fell on a patch of ice while responding to a "panic alarm" call. The fall caused a labral tear in his right hip. Claimant Heelan filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits and he underwent an independent medical evaluation with a noted examiner, Dr. Jay Levin. Dr. Levin opined Heelan's fall aggravated his preexisting right hip osteoarthritis. The Village continued to pay Heelan full salary for a year after his fall pursuant to the Public Employee Disability Act. Heelan underwent a right hip replacement in April 2010 and returned to work in a light-duty capacity. However, he then made the claim the left-hip-is-connected-to-the-right-hip. He got bilateral hip replacements.
The record indicates he did not return to work after this second surgery. It appears no effort was made to try to find him work as a police officer. He then got a workers’ comp settlement of $149K that we feel is a “going-away” present, when Claimant shouldn’t be going away. We will return to this later.
Shortly after the second hip replacement surgery, in December 2010, Heelan filed an application for a line-of-duty disability pension. The Board of Trustees of the Vernon Hills Police Pension Fund granted him a line-of-duty disability pension in August 2011. The Village then filed a complaint seeking a declaration the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act did not obligate it to pay the health insurance premiums for Heelan, his wife and his two children. Under Section 10 of the Act, injured law enforcement officers and firefighters, and their families, are entitled to have their municipality and its taxpayers pay their health insurance premiums if the worker has suffered a "catastrophic injury" in the line of duty while responding to what was "reasonably believed to be an emergency."
The Circuit Court ruled in favor of Heelan on this issue, and a divided Appellate Court panel upheld the judge's decision. Obviously someone at the Village of Vernon Hills didn’t like this outcome and they took it to the IL Supreme Court. Oops.
Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the pension board’s award of a line-of-duty disability pension established the public safety employee suffered a “catastrophic injury” as required by Section 10. Accordingly, our highest court said former officer Heelan’s award of a line-of-duty disability pension established he suffered a “catastrophic injury” as a matter of law. The Supreme Court went on to reject the idea the Village was denied due process because it never had an opportunity to litigate the question of whether Heelan's injury was catastrophic, saying "there is nothing to litigate" as the legislative enactment of Section 10 itself afforded "all of the process that it was due." To read the Supreme Court decision, click here. We want our readers to assume the Village of Vernon Hills wasted about $50-100K in legal fees getting unanimously turned down by the Court on literally every argument.
For those of you who aren’t hip to this situation and need translating by our knowledgeable defense team—what our highest court is saying is a police officer or firefighter injured in the line of duty has to demonstrate they can no longer work as a police officer or firefighter. When that is present, they are entitled to a lifetime line-of-duty disability pension paid for by local taxpayers. There is no “buy-in” period, these expensive lifetime benefits can be awarded for an injury on day one of public safety work. Part two for this concept is if the police officer or firefighter can demonstrate the injury occurred “during pursuit of an emergency,” we not only owe them lifetime unfunded pension benefits, we also owe their entire family taxpayer-paid health-care benefits. The combined cost for former police officer Heelan is well into the millions—he is only 48 years young. We are now seeing many firefighters and police officers who hear a “bang” or a ‘boom” at work and then need hearing aids consider applying for such largesse, as they are all arguing a hearing aid disqualifies them from public safety work. What? Say again?
Did the Supreme Court Get This Ruling Right?
Well, all Supreme Court rulings are “right” by definition. With the greatest legal and professional respect, we have one major problem with literally everything about how the parties, the Circuit Court judge, the three-member Appellate panel and the unanimous seven-member Supreme Court team dealt with these facts. Our problem is this claim isn’t simply a state claim, as it appears everyone on all sides of the bench appeared to handle it. Illinois hasn’t seceded from the United States. We remain fairly sure Federal law applies to all cases that appear in our state courts.
Just over 25 years back, on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. When he did so, our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities, like this claimant. Again, by definition former officer Heelan is a man who clearly has a disability—by federal law, he is entitled to reasonable accommodation. The record is devoid of any mention of anyone trying in any way to reasonably accommodate Claimant Heelan’s disability; it is almost as if the federal law vanished from our state and its judiciary in this claim.
What many folks in our nutty state are doing is to ignore or forget that simple principle for local, regional and state governments. Why don’t police and firefighters file EEOC beefs and demand reasonable accommodation and a job?—you guessed it, they get gigantic fake or unfunded government pensions and family health care coverage paid for by you and me and our kids and their kids. Why would you ask for accommodation to return to work when you make the same dough sitting home watching TV or hanging out on a beach? Please also note lots of former police officers and firefighter with such deals also get jobs and make significant bucks on top of their pensions—remember, they only have to show they are disabled from police and firefighting work, right?
What Are We Talking About—This is a Police Officer with Artificial Hips??
Well, listen to this folks. Right now, as you read this, the Village of Vernon Hills has a well-paid police job open with great benefits. It is ready and waiting for Claimant Heelan to sit down and start working. He can and should take the job, get off the dole and be earning his keep with appropriate accommodation like lots of other disabled and hard-working folks all across our country. He is fully qualified and they could put him in this job today, right now. The job description below is copied and pasted from the Village of Vernon Hills website:
DUTIES: The Vernon Hills Police Department Telecommunications Center provides both police and fire dispatch services. Police dispatch services are coordinated by the Vernon Hills Police Department, which provides services for the Villages of Libertyville, Lincolnshire, and Vernon Hills, as well as the monitoring, receipt and transmission of emergency and non-emergency police messages. In addition, the position involves the monitoring and operating of electronic building security systems; providing general information to the public; and the performance of incidental clerical duties.
This position involves a high level of communication during emergency and non- emergency situations which require the ability to communicate effectively and to employ selective attention in an environment with a variety of distractions. In addition, the individual must possess the ability to perform job duties in a confidential manner. Click here for a full job description.
REQUIREMENTS: The following requirements must be met:
Graduation from high school or GED; Minimum of one to three year’s experience in public safety dispatch required; Accurate typing ability (minimum 30 words per minute; Possess the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously and conduct themselves accordingly under stressful situations; Successful completion of a twelve-month probationary period.
SALARY & BENEFITS (Effective 5/1/15) $52,709 - $71,310
Take a look at www.blueline.com. Click on any link. Similar jobs are posted online all across the northern half of our state right now, including
These jobs open all the time. While working as a telecommunicator, if former officer Heelan needs to get up and walk around, they have headsets to allow him to do so and keep on the job. We are sure there are other local jobs this man can be trained for and then offered, with appropriate accommodation.
We also hope the EEOC and Illinois Dep’t of Human Rights gets their cumulative heads out of the sand and start to get involved in this secret scandal and do something to have this happen, moving forward.
Let’s Do The Opposite, Illinois!
Starting today, we hope all of our readers and anyone who knows anyone at a local government with police and firefighters to take this message to heart—we need to do “The Opposite” and start to get our unfortunately injured public safety officers back to work, earning a living and off our dime. If they truly are catastrophically injured and can do no work of any kind, well, let’s dig deep and take care of them. But if we have telecommunications or other available medium/light work they can do and gosh knows there is medium and light work at the local government level, let’s put them back to work as ADA requires.
We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please post them on our award-winning blog.
Synopsis: Indiana Department of Labor Issues 2014 Workplace Fatality Statistics. Comments from Kevin Boyle, J.D.
Editor’s comment: Last week, the Indiana Department of Labor (IDOL) released its annual preliminary Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) report for 2014. The IDOL reported 127 worker deaths in 2014. That number was unchanged from 2013.
“The Indiana Department of Labor remains committed to promoting safe workplaces for all Hoosiers through its multifaceted approach of outreach, training, safety consultations, recognition for exemplary occupational safety and health management systems and a robust enforcement program,” said IDOL Commissioner Rick J. Ruble. “We strive to help Indiana employers improve their safety and health practices to adopt a culture of workplace safety and health excellence.”
Nationally, there were 4,679 report fatalities in 2014, up 2 percent from 4,585 fatalities reported in 2013. The 2014 national number was the highest since 2011. However, the fatal injuries per 100,000 full time equivalent workers remained the same from 2013 to 2014, at 3.3 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers. --http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htm#charts
In Indiana, the 2014 report confirmed that worker fatalities have continued to decrease over the past 22 years from a high of 195 in 1994 to a record low of 115 in 2012. Although the number of fatal injuries has not changed from last year’s final total, 2014’s 127 ties 2013 and 2007 for the fourth-lowest number of workplace fatalities on record.
Key statistics from the 2014 CFOI report include:
• 127 Hoosier workplace fatalities were reported in 2014.
• 52 of the workplace fatalities resulted from transportation-related incidents of which more than half (30) were attributed to roadway incidents involving motorized vehicles.
• The agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry experienced more transportation-related fatalities than any other industry (13).
• Workplace fatalities in Indiana’s transportation and warehousing industry decreased by approximately 12 percent, from 59 in 2013 to 52 in 2014.
The preliminary review of 2014 workplace fatalities shows the primary cause of worker fatalities in Indiana was vehicle crashes. This is consistent with prior years’ reports. In 2014, the IDOL partnered with the Indiana Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Indiana State Police and the Criminal Justice Institute to launch the DRIVE NOW outreach campaign and social media contest. The DRIVE NOW campaign was initiated to educate motorists on the dangers of texting while driving.
If you are concerned about having a process in place if your workforce suffers a workplace fatality, we have a presentation we are happy to send without charge for your review and use. Simply send a reply to Kevin Boyle at email@example.com
Worker's Compensation Board of Indiana
Synopsis: A short note for IN WC Claims Handers From Kevin Boyle.
Editor’s comment: Effective July 1, 2015, Indiana’s mileage reimbursement rates changed. The prior mileage rate from May 1, 2011 to June 30, 2015 was .44. It’s now .40 as of July 1, 2015.
If you have questions or concerns about handling an IN WC claim at any time, email Kevin for answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.