In a 2-1 decision, a state appeals panel upheld a Cook County judge's decision a former suburban police officer, disabled on the job while inspecting an illegally overweight truck, deserves city health insurance for life because he was injured as the “result of an unlawful act” – the overweight truck.
The Feb. 6 ruling was penned by Justice Aurelia Pucinski, with concurrence from Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. and dissent from Justice Mary Anne Mason, of the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago. Mason said the fact of the truck being overweight did not cause the officer's injury.
The majority ruling favored onetime Des Plaines police officer John Marquardt in his action against the city of Des Plaines, just outside Chicago’s Northwest Side.
While on patrol in 2010, Marquardt pulled over an overweight semi-tractor trailer. When Marquardt climbed a ladder attached to the open-topped trailer to view the load – necessary to fill out a village report, though not to complete the citation process – he suffered a knee injury. He underwent total knee replacement surgery in 2012, then applied for a line-of-duty disability pension. The city approved the application, giving him a pension at 65 percent of his pay as an officer.
Marquardt then applied to continue receiving city health insurance benefits under the Illinois Public Safety Employees Benefits Act, despite no longer working as an officer. The Act ensures insurance is extended to employees and-or their families if the employee is killed or “catastrophically” injured in the line of duty.
However, the city denied his request, saying although he may have been catastrophically injured, he was not injured in any of the circumstances required by the Act. The circumstances are injury suffered during a “fresh pursuit, an emergency, a response to an unlawful act perpetrated by another, or an investigation of a criminal act.”
Marquardt then sued the city for the benefits in 2016 in Cook County Circuit Court. Judge Franklin Valderrama ended up ruling for Marquardt. The city appealed.
On appeal, the city argued Marquardt did not qualify for benefits, because the driving of an overweight truck was unlawful, but that act did not injure Marquardt's knee. Specifically, the overweight truck violation had already been committed and addressed when the injury occurred, the city asserted.
Justice Pucinski disagreed, finding Marquardt's injury was the “result of an unlawful act perpetrated by another,” as spelled out in the Act. Pucinski said the injury was “clearly a consequence or effect of” the truck driver's “unlawful act of driving an overweight truck.”
Justice Mason reasoned otherwise.
“Certainly Marquardt would not have been injured but for” the driver's “unlawful act, but his injury was not a result of that act,” Mason reasoned.
Mason said an unlawful act that injures an officer must be directed at the officer, such as a person striking an officer.
“When instead the third party's unlawful conduct is not directed at the public safety employee but merely sets in motion a series of events that ultimately leads to the injury, the remote nature of the connection is inconsistent with the concept of an unlawfully perpetrated act,” Mason said.
Mason also pointed out Marquardt's injury came about when he was trying to verify what the truck was hauling, so he could include that information in his report, but which was unrelated to the fact that, whatever the load, the truck was in violation.
Mason observed Marquardt would have no right to the insurance, if not for the Illinois Public Safety Employees Benefits Act, and as the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled, the Act must be “'construed in favor of the municipal employer.'”
Marquardt has been represented by the Chicago firm of Morici, Figlioli & Associates.
Des Plaines has been represented by the Chicago firm of Ancel, Glink, Diamond & Bush.