Monday, February 3, 2014

Court of Appeal Re-Affirms Standard for Public Safety Officers’ Industrial Disability Retirement

Public safety officers face the threat of work-related injury every day. Many officers are forced to seek industrial disability retirement if work-related injuries prevent them from performing the required tasks of their positions. Recently, the Court of Appeal recently re-affirmed the legal standard used to determine qualification for industrial disability retirement in Beckley v. Board of Administration of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

In Beckley, CalPERS deviated from the legal standard when it denied California Highway Patrol Officer Perry Beckley’s application for industrial disability retirement. CalPERS measured Beckley’s application for disability retirement against his usual duties as a Public Affairs Officer, rather than the “14 critical tasks” required of all CHP officers. But the Court of Appeal held an officer’s application for disability retirement must be measured against the officer’s job classification, not the officer’s last job assignment.

CHP has “14 critical tasks” an officer must be able to carry out to perform his or her duties. In 2006, doctors concluded Beckley's injuries prevented him performing the “14 critical tasks”. These tasks include safely extracting a 200-pound victim from a vehicle and lift, carry, and drag the victim 50 feet; physically subdue and handcuff a combative subject; change a flat tire; drive for extended periods of time; and run up and down stairs. Beckley applied for industrial disability retirement, but CalPERS denied his application. CalPERS measured Beckley’s application against his usual duties as a Public Affairs Officer, rather than against the “14 critical tasks”. 

The Court of Appeal found CalPERS applied the wrong standard for two reasons. First, the Court said “[t]ying an applicant’s entitlement to disability retirement to his last specific assignment would tend to lead to highly inconsistent results for persons in identical job categories who suffer from identical disabilities.” Second, California law requires a CHP officer to be able to perform the full range of duties of the position, and does not allow permanent limited duty positions. Thus, the Court ruled CalPERS had to honor the officer's disability retirement application.