Firefighter union sues city over legal definition of 'catastrophic injury'
The city of Peoria sought to define the term to cut down on abuse, but the firefighter union says there isn't any abuse of the system
By Andy Kravetz
PEORIA, Ill. — City Hall and the union that represents its firefighters are at odds over an ordinance that could change the way public safety employees are compensated after an injury.
At the crux of a lawsuit filed this week in Peoria County Circuit Court by the International Association of Firefighters Local 50 is the definition of a catastrophic injury. The city, in a June 12 ordinance, sought to define the term to cut down on abuse, according to a document issued to the council.
"While the General Assembly did not define 'catastrophic injury' in the legislation, they do allow cities to establish a procedure for reviewing these types of claims and providing some definition to 'catastrophic injury,'" said City Manager Patrick Urich."This ordinance provides that procedure for Peoria. The city believes 'catastrophic injury' means being severely injured to the point of never being able to work again, in any field."
The union, however, doesn't see it that way and believes the city's action is unlawful and "blatantly wrong."
There isn't any abuse of the system, said the union's attorney, Jerry Marzullo. "The city is just making that up. The second issue is, what the city of Peoria is doing is against the law. Every citizen should be concerned when a municipality decides they are going to ignore the rule of law and create their own law," he said.
Under the Illinois Public Safety Employees Benefit Act, a firefighter or a police officer who is injured so severely that they can't continue could have a change in their benefits if they are awarded a line of duty disability benefit from a pension board. Such a benefit covers health care costs and other issues.
PSEBA isn't a new law, and Marzullo says there is established legal precedent for his arguments.
But Urich says more than a dozen cities across the state have passed a similar ordinance. The city manager said the union didn't "express their concerns over this ordinance during the two times the ordinance was in front of the City Council."
"Instead, they filed an unfair labor practice over it, and now this lawsuit. The city wants to assure that these benefits are conferred to those employees truly deserving while being mindful of the significant expense this benefit costs the taxpayer," Urich said.
Marzullo disputes that and says the city has refused to meet with them after the unfair labor action was taken. That, he said, prompted the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is set for a hearing in December. There are no firefighters who could potentially be affected by this at this time, the attorney said. Normally, from the time of an injury to the awarding of a line of duty disability benefit takes more than a year, Marzullo said.
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