BBP Overturns Police Pension Board Decision Despite 2 Adverse Expert Opinions

A south suburban Chicago police officer injured when a driver slammed into his patrol car while the police officer was protecting the scene of a different car accident is entitled to a line of duty disability pension, contrary to the medical opinions of two doctors appointed by the local police pension board, a Will County judge ruled last month.

Finding that the vast majority of the medical evidence in the record showed that the police officer suffered a debilitating left shoulder injury in the accident that rendered him unable to resume his full unrestricted duties as a patrol officer, Judge John C. Anderson reversed the decision of the local pension board and awarded the police officer a line of duty disability pension under Article 3 of the Illinois Pension Code.<

“It is not the function of the court to reweigh evidence or to make independent fact determinations, but to determine if the evidence as weighed by the trier of fact supports the findings of that agency,” the Court wrote, citing to precedent. “There needs to be some competent evidence in the record to support a board’s findings.”

In this case, Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd., was successful in convincing the Court to find that such competent evidence was lacking through its diligent efforts in creating a thorough record at the hearing that the Court could then rely on at the administrative review level.

Noting that there was no dispute that the police officer had been subject to a high-impact collision while on duty and positioning his vehicle to protect the scene of a different car accident, that after being extricated from his police car he was transported to a hospital by ambulance, that an MRI taken shortly after the crash showed a labral tear in his left shoulder, and that four of the doctors who examined the police officer, including one of the pension board’s three independent medical examiners (IMEs), had determined Plaintiff to be disabled, the Court found it clearly erroneous for the pension board to rely on the opinions of its other two doctors that the police officer was not disabled.

“The Court finds material deficiencies in the IME reports of [the two physicians] relied upon by the [pension board],” the Opinion stated. “Among these defects was that both IMEs relied on an FCA [Functional Capacity Assessment] that: (i) did not have a job description for Plaintiff’s position; (ii) noted Plaintiff’s unquestioned complaints of pain during the test; and (iii) concluded only that Plaintiff 'may attempt a return to work pending a physician’s recommendation.'”

In short, the Court concluded, the FCA did not find that the Plaintiff could return to work or that he met the job description requirements of a [police] officer. Moreover, Plaintiff’s treating doctor did not return him to full duty after reviewing the results of the FCA, and found that the FCA caused Plaintiff to experience painful locking episodes and increased pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Given that unrefuted evidence, the Court found that the IMEs should not have relied on the FCA as the basis of their opinions.

Vincent D. Pinelli and Martin T. Burns of Burke Burns & Pinelli, Ltd., represented the police officer at the Pension Board hearing and in the administrative review proceedings.

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