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C’ville, Sugar Grove appeal decisions giving health insurance to injured cops

Updated: February 21, 2013 6:38AM

The villages of Carpentersville and Sugar Grove are in the midst of a consolidated appeal of lawsuits that ruled in favor of providing benefits to two police officers injured on the job.

According to attorney Ryan Theriault, who is representing one of the officers, overturning the original decisions could have a chilling effect on how public safety workers do their jobs

“Officers may think twice about acting on the behalf of the citizenry if it could potentially expose them to an injury-producing situation. Knowing that villages will fight their benefits should they become disabled, including health insurance, incentivizes a lack of action on the officer’s behalf,” Theriault said.

Theriault added, “The public may be the unfortunate beneficiary of calculated, hesitant police work. While officers will continue to adhere to the serve and protect oath and not shirk their duties they swore to uphold, they may be more cautious knowing the village or city will not offer appropriate protections should they become injured.”

Last year, former Carpentersville police Officer Joseph Cecala won a lawsuit against the village, its manager Mark Rooney, and village human resources director Linda Mogren for health insurance benefits for himself and his family that he felt were owed to him under Illinois law.

Judge Thomas Mueller of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court ruled that Carpentersville must provide Cecala and his family health insurance benefits and reimburse him $4,240 for premiums he had been paying since Jan. 1, 2011.

Cecala was injured Dec. 29, 2008, while on duty at the scene of an accident at Route 31 and Spruce Road. According to Cecala’s lawsuit, a driver had knocked down a tree that led to a traffic signal falling onto Route 31.

“My client continues to experience significant pain and limitations due to a severe back injury and requires the use of a cane to assist with walking,” Theriault said.

Believing the situation to be an emergency and that, due to the hour, no help would come to remove the signal, Cecala and another officer moved the signal off the road. In the process, Cecala injured his back in what his lawsuit calls a “catastrophic injury.”

In November 2010, Cecala, the married father of two children, was awarded an in-the-line-of-duty disability pension that went into effect that December. That month, he applied to the village for health insurance benefits he believed were his under the state’s Public Safety Employee Benefits Act.

The act states that if a police officer suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty, his employer must pay the entire premium of the employer’s health insurance plan for the injured employee, the injured employee’s spouse, and for each dependent child until the child reaches the “age of majority” or until the end of the calendar year in which the child turns 25 if the child continues to be a dependent.

Sugar Grove case

The Sugar Grove appeal involves former officer Christopher Springborn, who — according to a brief filed by Theriault and Springborn’s attorney, Craig Mielke — was injured the morning of Aug. 27, 2009.

The brief states that, responding to a call, Springborn was removing asphalt debris from the road that had spilled from a truck along Route 47 between Bliss and Kedeka roads when he injured his back.

The brief filed by Theriault and Mielke notes that Sugar Grove asserts “the issue is whether the need to remove the debris at the time of his injury was an unforeseen circumstance involving imminent danger to a person or property requiring an urgent response,” while Carpentersville contends that Cecala’s situation represented “a foreseeable circumstance and not an unforeseen circumstance.”

According to the aforementioned brief, Carpentersville also argues that “imminent danger to person or property was not involved and an urgent response was not required, demonstrated by the fact the plaintiff and (another officer) further discussed moving the downed traffic signal a second time before actually deciding to move it a second time.” Carpentersville also asserts that failure of the court to reverse its decision may have a catastrophic financial impact on state and local government.

Attorneys for the two villages did not return calls seeking comment.

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