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06/24/96 LARRY GRAVES v. PONTIAC FIREFIGHTERS'

June 24, 1996

LARRY GRAVES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
PONTIAC FIREFIGHTERS' PENSION BOARD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Livingston County. No. 94MR39. Honorable Charles E. Glennon, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication July 24, 1996. As Corrected August 29, 1996.

Honorable John T. McCULLOUGH, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, P.j., Honorable James A. Knecht, J., Concurring. Justice McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mccullough

The Honorable Justice McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Larry Graves, was a firefighter employed by the Pontiac fire department from 1973 until July 20, 1993, when he filed an application for a disability pension with the defendant, Pontiac Firefighters' Pension Board (Board). Plaintiff sought a line-of-duty disability pension pursuant to section 4-110 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) (40 ILCS 5/4-110 (West 1992)), or in the alternative a not-in-duty disability pension pursuant to section 4-111 of the Code (40 ILCS 5/4-111 (West 1992)). After a series of hearings, the Board found plaintiff permanently disabled from performing the duties of a firefighter but found his disability not duty-related and awarded him a nonduty disability pension. On administrative review, the circuit court reversed the Board's decision and ordered it to grant a line-of-duty disability pension. Defendant appeals, alleging the circuit court erred in finding the Board's decision against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons which follow, we reverse the order of the circuit court and reinstate the Board's decision.

The line-of-duty disability pension under section 4-110 of the Code provides:

"If a firefighter, as the result of sickness, accident or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty or from the cumulative effects of acts of duty, is found, pursuant to Section 4-112, to be physically or mentally permanently disabled for service in the fire department, *** the firefighter shall be entitled to a disability pension of 65% of the monthly salary attached to the rank held by him." 40 ILCS 5/4-110 (West 1992).

A firefighter who becomes physically or mentally disabled from any cause other than from an act of duty shall be granted a disability pension of 50% of his monthly salary. 40 ILCS 5/4-111 (West 1992). A disability pension shall not be paid unless three physicians selected by the Board have determined by examinations that the firefighter is disabled, together with such other evidence the Board deems necessary. 40 ILCS 5/4-112 (West 1992).

In his disability application, plaintiff claimed he was physically or mentally disabled as a result of anxiety brought on by the increasing demands for performance of emergency medical technician (EMT) duties and an incident of January 9, 1993, when he was required to use a defibrillator upon a friend in an unsuccessful rescue attempt. During the hearings respecting his application, plaintiff testified that over the past several years greater emphasis had been placed upon his EMT duties and the necessary training and certification became more intense. Plaintiff stated he felt less and less competent to handle the EMT calls and he began experiencing stress and anxiety two to three years prior to the incident of January 9. He never mentioned his growing anxieties to his chief and admitted that his responsibilities were no different than those of other firefighters. He could recall no specific incident where he felt incompetent to handle his duties.

Plaintiff testified that on January 9 he and other firefighters responded to an emergency call for a person found unresponsive. He testified he attempted to shock the victim with the defibrillator because the machine indicated a shockable rhythm, but he was unable to do so. Upon arrival at the hospital, he stated that a nurse looked at the defibrillator monitor which plaintiff carried and screamed there was a shockable rhythm. Plaintiff took this as criticism of his performance. Two other firefighters at the scene, Mark Corrigan and Duane Beal, testified they did not recall any conversation between plaintiff and the hospital staff, and Corrigan testified that he himself operated the defibrillator on the victim. Plaintiff consulted his personal physician at the end of January 1993 because he was depressed, felt worthless, and had no energy. He was referred to Drs. Douglas Bey and Mel French, both psychiatrists, and admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward in April 1993.

Pursuant to statute, plaintiff consulted with three additional psychiatrists selected by the Board. In concluding that plaintiff was disabled, the Board cited from those reports.

Dr. Anthony D'Agostino's medical report indicates:

"[Plaintiff] reported that his difficulties began about two years ago with the gradual increase of what he calls 'medical calls.' Prior to that time he had spent most of his career doing firefighting but now he reports that during the last three or four years that approximately 90% of what he is doing are what as he referred to as 'ambulance calls.' He has never liked doing medical work and has always felt particularly anxious about having to treat medically ill persons but somehow he managed to cope in the past because these calls were much less frequent. He recalls that he's always had an aversion to dealing with people in medical situations and states that he's always protected himself by avoiding what he refers to as 'Personal contacts with patients.' In recent years he feels the job has become more and more demanding with respect to these medical emergencies and these have become [sic ] to bother him more and more.

It should be noted however that [plaintiff] has reported that the administering of medical treatment has always been a source of distress to him but that he, in the past, was able to shrug off the annoying feelings associated with medical treatment because such demands were made upon him much less frequently. In the last few years, if what he says is correct, there has been a shift in the kinds of demands made on him with the result that increasing numbers of calls are now specifically for such medical treatment which has resulted in a corresponding increase in his distress. Put it another way, these feelings of aversion have always been present but have been allowed to reach a point of disablement in his case because the frequency of these contacts have increased in the ...


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