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Retired Lake Forest firefighter’s insurance request denied

Updated: February 4, 2013 1:17AM

The Lake Forest City Council has turned down a 23-year firefighter’s request for free health-insurance coverage for himself and his family, which could lead to a legal battle.

Todd Netherton, who was on the city’s payroll until Sept. 15, is seeking free coverage through the Public Safety Employee Benefits Act, citing his duty-related pension and “a catastrophic injury” that qualify him for the benefits.

The city contends Netherton is not qualified for coverage because he twice turned it down, including when he began receiving his pension. City Manager Robert Kiely also said Netherton was never labeled with a catastrophic injury that would make him eligible for the insurance coverage.

Kiely said the Lake Forest Firefighters’ Pension Fund opted to provide Netherton with a duty-related pension because he suffered from asthma, which the city admitted was aggravated by fighting fires and training.

“In granting this pension, the Pension Fund Board merely found that such asthma did result (at least in part) from, or was incurred in, the performance of an act of duty, or the cumulative effects of acts of duty,” Kiely wrote in his denial.

The City Council on Monday night unanimously backed Kiely’s denial of benefits.

“No fair reading of the (PSEBA statutory) provision punishes a public employee for having health insurance from another source by barring a PSEBA award … The city manager’s reasons for denial are unjustified,” Netherton’s attorney, Thomas Kelliher, wrote in a brief on behalf of the firefighter’s appeal.

Kelliher said the city viewing Netherton’s injury in an accumulative nature does not defeat his PSEBA effort as the city contends.

“Firefighter Netherton suffered a ‘catastrophic injury’ for purposes of PSEBA,” Kelliher said. “ … As Firefighter Netherton has been awarded a line-of-duty pension … he has suffered a ‘catastrophic injury’ as determined by PSEBA and (the) Illinois Supreme Court.”

He added that Netherton’s injury was not an accretive result of his duty, but in response to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency.

Kiely said Netherton rejected the city’s coverage in the past, saying he had health insurance through his wife’s employer. “Netherton has waived insurance benefits from the city not once, but twice,” Kiely wrote.

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