A Shiloh police detective injured when the squad car he was riding in as a passenger was rear-ended at a stop light is entitled to line-of-duty disability pension benefits.
The Fifth District Appellate Court has ruled that even though David Martin was returning to the police station after conducting business at the St. Clair County courthouse when the incident took place - not under duress - in May 2012, he was engaged in the performance of an act of duty and therefore entitled to benefits affording him 65 percent of his salary versus 50 percent that would be afforded through a not-on-duty disability pension.
On Nov. 29, Justices Richard Goldenhersh, Melissa Chapman and Judy Cates affirmed a decision reached by the late circuit judge Robert LeChien in July 2016.
The opinion states that after the crash in which Martin suffered cervical spine injuries in his neck and back, he applied for line-of-duty benefits to the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund of the Village of Shiloh.
When the Board denied that request, but granted him not-on-duty benefits instead, Martin petitioned for administrative review of the Board's decision to the circuit court. The Village also intervened on behalf of the Board.
While there was no dispute that Martin's permanent disabilities were the result of the crash or that he was on duty at the time, the sides clashed as to whether his disability resulted from the performance of an act of duty.
In its review of the Board's decision, rather than LeChien's, the justices looked at the legislative intent of "act of duty" language in state statute.
"Illinois courts recognize that an officer does not perform an 'act of duty' merely by being on duty at the relevant time," Goldenhersh wrote.
"Further, it is well settled that not all police functions involve 'special risk.' However, as our supreme court has observed, 'special risk' is not restricted to 'inherently dangerous’ activities.'"
The opinion notes that LeChien relied on an Illinois Supreme Court precedent in Johnson v. Retirement Board of the Policemen’s Annuity & Benefit Fund, in which a police officer slipped and injured himself while crossing an intersection from his assigned post in response to a citizen’s request for assistance in a traffic accident.
Goldenhersh wrote that the Supreme Court noted that officer Johnson "had no choice but to respond," holding that the "crux is the capacity in which the police officer is acting" as opposed to the precise manner in which the officer was injured.
"In light of the precedent established by our supreme court in Johnson, we find the Board erred in denying plaintiff’s application for a line-of-duty disability pension," Goldenhersh wrote.
"Here, plaintiff sustained injuries in an automobile accident during his shift while performing duties in furtherance of his job as a detective for the Village of Shiloh Police Department. The record shows that, prior to the accident, plaintiff was a passenger in a squad car that drove from the police department to the St. Clair County courthouse to meet with the State’s Attorney’s office in order to obtain subpoenas for an ongoing investigation. Plaintiff also filed traffic tickets and other citations at the courthouse. (The tickets filed by plaintiff produce fines that help the Village of Shiloh receive funds, and do not get processed unless a police officer or detective files them with the circuit clerk’s office at the St. Clair County courthouse.) The duties performed by plaintiff are not delegated to any members of the general public. Further, because plaintiff was on duty at the time of the accident and was a passenger in a squad car, he was subject to attend to any other police responsibility if necessary."
Martin was represented by Edward Kionka of Bonifield & Rosenstengel in Belleville.
The Board and the Village of Shiloh were represented by Dennis Orsey of Granite City.