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Assumption of Unassigned Duties Does Not Create an “Act of Duty” for Disability Pension Purposes

December 5th, 2017

Law v. Bd. of Trustees of the River Forest Firefighters’ Pension Fund et al., 2017 IL App (1st) 161826-U

In a Rule 23 (unpublished) decision, the First District Appellate Court affirmed a pension board decision denying the disability application for line-of-duty disability benefits from a firefighter who claimed he was injured while performing an inspection of a ladder truck the Village was considering for purchase.

Firefighter Law claimed he had been ordered by his supervisors to inspect a ladder truck.  During his inspection, Law injured his right wrist climbing to the top of the ladder truck.  At the time of injury, the ladder truck had not yet been put in service.  There was a department requirement for the daily inspection of all trucks, but only those already in service.  There was no testimony from any supervisor regarding whether a direct order had been issued to Law to conduct the inspection.  The Fire Chief testified the ladder truck was a demonstration model, which was parked at the fire station as an accommodation to the truck vendor.  At the time of Law’s injury the Village Board had not yet approved purchased of the ladder truck.   Prior to the purchase, there was no requirement for members of the department to inspect the vehicle – it was strictly voluntary.

The Pension Board denied Law’s application for line-of-duty disability pension benefits, determining his actions had been voluntary, and therefore he was not engaged in an “act of duty” when injured.  On administrative review, the circuit court affirmed the Pension Board’s denial.

In affirming the Pension Board’s denial, the Appellate Court disagreed with Law’s application of Section 5/4-110 of the Pension Code.   The Appellate Court disagreed with Law’s assertion he was performing an “act of duty” because he was on shift at the time of injury, inspecting a truck the Village had not yet decided to purchase.  The Appellate Court noted Law conceded no fire department rules and regulations  or Village ordinances required his inspection of the ladder truck.

The Appellate Court further found Law presented no evidence his inspection of the ladder truck led to the saving of life or property, and that any training on the new ladder truck would not begin until it had been placed into service.  Ultimately, the Appellate Court held the manifest weight of the evidence supported the Pension Board’s determination.