The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld a ruling that ordered St. Clair County to pay a former deputy sheriff more than $20,000 in health-related costs.
In an unpublished order released Tuesday, the appeals panel affirmed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn’s finding that the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (PSBA) required the county to pay the premium of a health insurance plan for Gregory Graves and his dependents.
Graves, who started working as a deputy sheriff in 1996, was injured in 2006 while responding to an emergency call. He twisted his knee in the process of dragging a decapitated body from the MetroLink tracks, the lawsuit states.
After another injury the next year, as well as surgeries and evaluations, one of Graves’ doctors in March 2010 opined it would be difficult for Graves to serve in law enforcement and needed a total knee replacement.
The next day, according to the order, Graves received a letter from the county terminating his service.
Graves filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in November 2010 to determine whether the county was obligated to pay benefits under the PSBA.
Under the PSBA, employers are required to pay the entire premium of a health insurance plan for a firefighter or law enforcement, correctional or probation officer, as well his spouse and dependents, if the injured employee “suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty.”
At trial, doctors provided differing testimony as to whether Graves injury stemmed from a work-related injury or if it was the result of degenerative changes in his knee.
In April 2012, the order states that the parties filed a stipulation stating that Graves was injured in a line-of-duty accident in 2006. They further stipulated that Graves was disabled and that his disability required the termination of his employment.
The order further notes that the parties also stipulated that the issue before McGlynn was whether Graves’ 2006 injury was a “catastrophic injury” for purposes of benefits under the PSBA.
In June 2007, McGlynn determined that Graves’ injury was catastrophic and as such, ordered the county to pay the premium on Graves’ health plan and reimburse him for insurance coverage and other health-related costs he incurred since his termination.
The county, according to the order, was ordered to pay Graves sums totaling about $26,275.
On appeal, the county argued that McGlynn’s determination that Graves’ injury was catastrophic was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
It also claimed that because Graves was awarded social security disability benefits for degenerative joint disease of his knee, he failed to prove his disability was a line-of-duty injury.
The appeals panel, in an unpublished order delivered by Justice Bruce Stewart, rejected the county’s arguments and affirming McGlynn’s decision in favor of Graves. Justices Stephen Spomer and Richard Goldenhersh concurred.
In the court’s analysis, Stewart wrote that the court in Krohe v. City of Bloomington (2003) held that “catastrophic injury” is synonymous with an injury that results in a line-of-duty disability under the state’s Pension Code.
In order prove a line-of-duty disability, Stewart wrote that the Pension Code requires the claimant to show he is disabled from service and that his disability was caused by an injury that occurred or results from an act of duty.
Because the parties had stipulated that Graves had suffered a line-of-duty accident and was disabled, Stewart wrote that “the sole issue was whether there was a causal connection between Mr. Graves’ injury and his disability.”
To do that, Stewart wrote for the panel, the claimant doesn’t need to prove that the duty-related accident was the sole cause of his disability, but rather “that the accident is a causative factor contributing to his disability.”
“It was not against the manifest weight of the evidence for the circuit court to conclude that there was a causal connection between Mr. Graves' October 3, 2006, injury and his disability and that he suffered a catastrophic injury within the meaning of the Benefits Act,” Stewart wrote.
The unpublished order did not list the attorneys who represented Graves or the county.