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Appellate Court Affirms Pension Board Denial of Line-of-Duty Disability

October 6th, 2014

Shafer v. Lake in the Hills Pension Bd., 2014 IL App (2d) 131002-U

In a recent Rule 23 opinion, the Second District Appellate Court affirmed the pension board’s denial of Officer Shafer’s line-of-duty disability pension claim.  The police department required physical fitness testing of its officers, as was specified in the collective bargaining agreement.  All of the tests are pass/fail and an officer would pass if they achieved a result in the 40th percentile on the first attempt.  For the bench press, officers were not required to attempt more than the minimum weight necessary to achieve the 40th percentile.  However, officers could attempt greater weights to qualify to earn additional compensatory time.

Shafer passed the bench press test by lifting the minimum weight.  Shafer was then asked if he wanted to attempt the 80th percentile weight.  While attempting the 80th percentile weight, Shafer suffered a torn rotator cuff.  The pension board found that Shafer was disabled, but that the injury did not occur in performance of an act of duty.  The pension board awarded a non-duty disability pension, even though Shafer had applied for a line-of-duty disability pension only.

The Appellate Court noted that both police officers and ordinary citizens perform bench presses, and both are at risk of injury while performing the exercise.  Shafer argued that he had performed the exercise at a special risk, because he was injured during a mandatory physical fitness test.  The Appellate Court held that Shafer was under no duty to perform the physical test that resulted in his injury – attempting to lift the 80th percentile weight.  However, Shafer was under no duty to attempt a weight greater than the 40th percentile weight after he had successfully completed the exercise.

The Appellate Court disagreed with Shafer’s argument that he was exercising discretion in the performance of his duty in attempting the greater weight.  Shafer was exercising personal discretion only, not discretion with respect to the manner in which to perform his duty, in deciding to try to earn additional compensatory time by attempting the 80th percentile weight.  Reimer & Dobrovolny represented the pension board in this matter and is pleased with the Appellate Court’s affirmation of the pension board’s decision.  Shafer is currently seeking appeal, as a right, to the Illinois Supreme Court.