The above headline may seem self-evident when considering annual evaluations of disability pension beneficiaries but things are not always as clear as they seem. In a recent First District Appellate Court case, a firefighter receiving a disability pension benefit was sent for his annual disability evaluation. After evaluation, the physician rendered the opinion that the firefighter was not disabled and furthermore, that he had never suffered from a disability. Asked to elaborate on his opinion, the doctor made clear that his opinion was not that the disability recipient had recovered from his disability but rather that he was never disabled in the first place.
Based upon this report, the Pension Board held a hearing and issued a decision terminating the plaintiff’s disability pension. The Appellate Court held that in order to terminate a disability pension, the Pension Code requires that there must be some evidence of recovery from disability to justify termination. In this case, there was no evidence of “recovery” because the examining physician’s position was that the pensioner had no disability from which to recover. The Court reasoned that by terminating the firefighter’s pension on this basis, the Pension Board was in essence revisiting their original determination to award the pension. Such an action is not allowed by the Pension Code. While a dissenting opinion was filed, ultimately the Appellate Court ruled that because the Pension Board presented no proof that the firefighter had recovered from his disability, he remains entitled to his disability pension benefits.
Whether this matter will proceed to the Supreme Court of Illinois remains to be seen. Our attorneys will continue to monitor this case and will provide updates regarding any developments.
Hoffman v. Orland Firefighters’ Pension Board et al., 2012 IL. App. (1 st) 112120