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Krohe v. City of Bloomington

May 13, 2002

BILL KROHE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE CITY OF BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 00MR133 Honorable Elizabeth A. Robb, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Turner

Released for publication.

In June 2000, plaintiff, Bill Krohe, was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension by the City of Bloomington Pension Board (Board) based on injuries he sustained as a firefighter for defendant, the City of Bloomington (City). Thereafter, plaintiff requested that the City continue to pay the health insurance premiums for him and his family pursuant to section 10 of the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act (Act) (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2000)). The City denied the request, stating it was not required to pay the premiums.

In October 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, requesting the trial court enter an order that plaintiff was entitled to have the premiums paid by the City pursuant to section 10 of the Act. In March 2001, the trial court, in construing section 10 of the Act, found the City was required to pay the health insurance premiums.

On appeal, the City argues the trial court erred in interpreting "catastrophic" injury under section 10 of the Act (820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2000)) to mean any injury resulting in a line-of-duty disability under section 4-110 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) (40 ILCS 5/4-110 (West 2000)). We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In June 2000, plaintiff was awarded a line-of-duty disability pension by the Board based on injuries he sustained while performing his duties as a firefighter for the City. Later that month, plaintiff requested that the City continue to pay the health insurance premiums for him and his family pursuant to section 10 of the Act, which provides, in part: "An employer who employs a full-time *** firefighter, who *** suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty shall pay the entire premium of the employer's health insurance plan for the injured employee," his spouse, and dependent children. 820 ILCS 320/10(a) (West 2000). The City countered it was not required to pay premiums for plaintiff and his family because "a line[-]of[-] duty injury is not equivalent to suffering a 'catastrophic' injury."

In October 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking an order from the trial court that he was entitled to have the health insurance premiums for him and his family paid by the City pursuant to section 10 of the Act. 820 ILCS 320/10 (West 2000). The complaint alleged the purpose of section 10 was "to protect all firefighters who are receiving a duty-related disability without limitation on the nature of the injury."

In January 2001, the trial court conducted a hearing on plaintiff's complaint. The issue before the court was whether plaintiff had suffered a "catastrophic injury" as defined by the Act. Plaintiff maintained the phrase "catastrophic injury" was ambiguous and required the court to determine the legislative intent to determine its meaning. Specifically, plaintiff argued the trial court should consider the comments made by Senator Laura Kent Donahue in the November 1997 legislative debate to override Governor Edgar's veto of House Bill 1347, which became the Act at issue here. Senator Donahue stated, in part: "I'd like to say for the sake of the record what we mean by cata-strophically injured. What it means is that it is our intent to define 'catastrophically injured' as a police officer or firefighter who, due to injuries, has been forced to take a line-of-duty disability." 90th Ill. Gen. Assem., Senate Proceedings, November 14, 1997, at 136 (statements of Senator Donahue).

In March 2001, the trial court, in its order construing section 10 of the Act, stated the parties agreed plaintiff sustained an injury while performing his duties as a firefighter and as a result was permanently injured. The trial court found in favor of plaintiff stating, in part:

"Because the term, 'catastrophically injured' is not defined, the [c]court has reviewed the legislative debate to determine the intent and meaning of this language. The legislative debate clearly indicates that those individuals (a firefighter in this case) who are disabled in the line of duty are entitled to have their health insurance premiums paid by the employer (in this case the City of Bloomington)."

This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

The City argues the trial court erred in construing section 10 of the Act to require it to pay plaintiff's health insurance premiums after plaintiff was disabled in the line of duty. We disagree.

Statutory construction is a matter of law and appellate review is de novo. People v. Slover, 323 Ill. App. 3d 620, 623, 753 N.E.2d 554, 557 (2001). The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. People v. Latona, 184 Ill. 2d 260, 269, 703 N.E.2d 901, 906 (1998). The words of a statute are to be given their plain and commonly understood meanings. Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Co. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 314 Ill. App. 3d 296, 301, 734 N.E.2d 18, 22 (2000). When the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, it will be given effect without resort to the other tools of statutory construction. Segers v. Industrial Comm'n, 191 Ill. 2d 421, 431, 732 N.E.2d 488, 494 (2000).

Section 10 of the Act provides, in part:

"An employer who employs a full-time *** firefighter, who *** suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty shall 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 of ...


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