Alan Hampton was a police officer for the Village of Bolingbrook. Hampton was on duty on December 20, 2016 when he responded to an accident with injuries in the center of an intersection. Hampton’s lights and sirens were on. There was a fire vehicle on the scene with activated lights. Hampton tried to position his vehicle to protect the scene by blocking traffic from entering the intersection, and while positioning his patrol car was struck on the driver’s side. As a result of the collision, Hampton suffered injuries to his left shoulder, and had to be extricated from the police car.

Hampton submitted an application for line-of-duty disability pension benefits on December 4, 2017. In addition to his treating physicians, he was examined by three physicians at the Board’s direction and expense.

HAMPTON’S TREATING PHYSICIANS

Dr. Charles Paik

Dr. Paik ordered an MRI of Hampton’s left shoulder, which revealed moderate glenohumeral osteoarthritis with an associated superior labral tear extending to the posterior inferior portion of the labrum. The MRI also revealed a paralabral cyst, a Bankart lesion and a Hill Sachs deformity. After reviewing the MRI, Dr. Paik referred Hampton to Dr. John Lee, an orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. John Lee

Dr. Lee diagnosed Hampton with left shoulder pain due to degenerative joint disease, a labral tear, and a possible Bankart lesion. Dr. Lee recommended 4 weeks of physical therapy.

Dr. Steven Chudik

Hampton was next seen by Dr. Chudik, another orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Chudik referred Hampton for physical therapy followed by work conditioning. At the completion of work conditioning, Dr. Chudik ordered an FCE. After the FCE, Dr. Chudik recommended a return to modified duty because Hampton’s shoulder injury posed an unacceptable risk if Hampton was involved in a physical altercation or a situation requiring physical force. Dr. Chudik placed Hampton at maximum, medical improvement as of September 15, 2017.

THE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION SECTION 12 MEDICAL EXAMINER

Dr. Vishal Mehta

Dr. Mehta examined Hampton as part of the underlying workers’ compensation claim. Dr. Mehta opined that Hampton had an underlying glenohumeral osteoarthritis that was aggravated by the work incident on December 20, 2016. Mehta recommended restrictions of no pushing, pulling, or lifting greater than 20 pounds with the left shoulder, no over-the-shoulder use, and indicated that Hampton was not to be placed in situations that could result in physical altercations.

THE BOARD DESIGNATED PHYSICIANS

Dr. Joshua Alpert

Dr. Alpert, an orthopedic surgeon, certified Hampton disabled from performing full and unrestricted police duties based on aggravation of the osteoarthritis in Hampton’s left shoulder, which had been asymptomatic prior to the accident.

Dr. Denis Williams

Dr. Williams, also an orthopedic surgeon, agreed that Hampton had pre-existing osteoarthritis that was aggravated by the accident, but found Hampton not disabled based on the FCE.

Dr. Sam Biafora

Dr. Biafora, an orthopedic surgeon, certified Hampton not disabled from performing his duties as a police officer, opining that Hampton sustained only a temporary exacerbation of pre-existing arthritis in the left shoulder. Dr. Biafora opined that Hampton’s left shoulder pain was due to the natural progression of the arthritis, and was not related to the accident.

After the hearing, the Board found that Hampton was not disabled and denied Hampton’s claims for both line-of-duty disability benefits and not-on-duty disability benefits.

The circuit court reversed the Board’s decision, finding there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the Board’s findings, and that the Board’s findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The appellate court noted that a police officer is entitled to a line-of-duty pension if “as the result of sickness, accident or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty, is found to be physically or mentally disabled for service in the police department, so as to render necessary his or her suspension or retirement from the police service.” 40 ILCS 5/3-114.1(a). In defining disability, the court referred to article V of the Pension Code, which states that disability is “a condition of physical or mental incapacity to perform any assigned duty or duties in the police service.”

The appellate court affirmed the circuit court, and found that the Board’s conclusion that Hampton was not disabled from being a Bolingbrook police officer was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and pointed to the following facts in the record:

  • An MRI from January 2017 objectively showed a labral tear, paralabral cyst, Bankart lesion and Hill Sachs deformity.
  • Mehta, the IME doctor from the underlying workers’ compensation claim, found that the pre-existing shoulder condition was aggravated by the December 20, 2016 accident and that Hampton required work restrictions that could be permanent in nature.
  • Alpert, one of the Board designated physicians, concluded that Hampton was disabled from performing full and complete police duties.
  • Chudik, a treating doctor, recommended modified duty that restricted Hampton from situations that would require any type of physical altercation.

The appellate court found that the Board’s reliance on Dr. Williams was misplaced in that Williams’ conclusions were inconsistent with the facts available to him. The appellate court also found Dr. Biafora’s conclusion that Hampton had suffered merely a temporary exacerbation to be inconsistent with the facts in the record.

The Board’s decision did not address whether Hampton was injured in the performance of an act of duty. The appellate court found that the Board did make the necessary factual findings for the appellate court to make that finding as a matter of law. Relying on the Board’s findings of fact, the appellate court found that Hampton was injured while performing an act of duty.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • When appearing before the pension board, be sure to present a complete record of all treatment received for the injury, including the opinions of any doctors that rendered care and treatment in any underlying workers’ compensation claim. Make sure that the record includes the opinions of treating physicians in addition to the chart notes.
  • If a pension board finds that an officer is not disabled, the Board might not address the issues of line of duty vs. not-on-duty disability benefits in its decision. When appealing such a decision, be sure to present arguments to the court as relates to line of duty vs. not-on-duty disability benefits, as the court does have the power to take the Board’s factual findings and apply those facts to determine whether the officer was injured while performing an act of duty. Be sure to reference any non-disputed facts contained in the record to bolster your argument for a line of duty disability pension.

If you are a police officer and have been injured on the job, feel free to call me for a free consultation.