Illinois Courts Rule in Favor of Firefighter Injured in the Line of Duty
Any form of litigation can be difficult and may require you to make your case multiple times. In the case of one East St. Louis firefighter, even armed with three independent doctors who declared him to be entitled to a disability pension as a result of on-duty injuries, he had to pursue his case before a board, Circuit Court, and Appellate Court. Both the Circuit Court and the Appellate Court agreed that, based upon the strong evidence in the firefighter’s favor and the flawed evidence against him, the board should have declared him entitled to the disability pension.
The employee in the case, Larry Hopkins, was a captain in the East St. Louis fire department and had been a firefighter there since 1978. After almost 35 years on the job, Hopkins filed an application seeking a line-of-duty disability pension. Hopkins had suffered two different injuries in the line of duty, in 2009 and 2011, and he claimed that the cumulative effects of these injuries qualified him for a disability pension. The two incidents had left Hopkins with head, neck, and shoulder injuries, and the damage was so substantial that Hopkins eventually required surgery: a discectomy, fusion, and plate fixation at two levels in his neck.
A board that heard Hopkins’ request turned it down. The board concluded that Hopkins was disabled, but his disability wasn’t the result of his on-the-job accidents. Specifically, the board relied on the testimony of a doctor, Richard Katz, who concluded that Hopkins had become disabled before he suffered his first on-duty accident in the summer of 2009.
The firefighter appealed the board’s ruling, and he won. The Circuit Court in St. Clair County concluded that the board did not weigh the evidence properly. As part of the application process, the board appointed three independent doctors to examine Hopkins. All three of them concluded that the firefighter was disabled and that his disability stemmed from his on-duty injuries. Instead of relying upon these reports, the board relied upon Katz’s five-year-old examination that he had performed as part of Hopkins’ workers’ compensation claim following the first on-duty accident. The board should have followed the three recent independent medical exams, rather than Katz’s older analysis, the court concluded in ordering the board to give Hopkins his disability pension.
The City of East St. Louis appealed but lost. In Hopkins’ case, the three doctors who examined him most recently were independent and impartial professionals. Katz, on the other hand, was not impartial but was a paid expert retained by the city to bolster its case in Hopkins’ 2009 workers’ compensation case. Unlike the three recent examinations, Katz’s exam took place before Hopkins even suffered his second on-duty injury, and Katz wasn’t even aware that Hopkins went back to work after the first on-duty injury. The three recently retained doctors were impartial physicians who had access to more complete information than Katz, who was not impartial. Given these facts, the Circuit Court was correct to conclude that the board should have credited the three independent physicians, discredited Katz’s opinion, and ordered the award of the pension, the appeals court concluded.
Fighting for proper compensation, from whatever source, for your workplace injuries can be a challenging process. Regardless of the type of injuries you’ve suffered or the entity to which you are presenting your case, an experienced Illinois injury attorney can help you make a strong presentation. The diligent Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca can help you as you pursue the recovery you deserve.
To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.
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