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Most police officers and firefighters are covered for disability retirement by the California Public Employee's Retirement System. (CalPERS). County Deputy Sheriffs and Firefighters are often covered under the County Employee's Retirement Law.
If you become unable to perform your usual duties for your employer due to a medical condition or illness, you could be entitled to a lifetime disability allowance at a minimum of 50% of your final compensation. This benefit is a very special benefit because, in addition to the monthly amount paid, if the disability is industrially caused or related, the benefit is without either State or Federal taxation.
Like any benefit, where some entity controls the gateway, public officers, deputies and firefighters must assume that such entities are like insurance companies and will vigorously resist your claim. The usual insurance company-type defenses will be used: just to say no and try to starve 'em into giving up. They'll hire a known doctor to say your claim is not valid; then delay, delay, delay hoping that the employee pulls their money out and just goes away.
Of course the antidote to such defensive tactics is, as in your work, an aggressive, prompt and diligent enforcement of your claim, with the help of a qualified attorney, based on the statutory rights interpreted and applied under established California case law.
There are three main time periods involved in pursuing a disability retirement claim.
First the application -
Here it should not be assumed that the officer or firefighter should file the initial claim themselves. If your employer has already treated you as being disabled, the employer is the one with the mandatory duty to file the application. This valuable right is often overlooked when the employer advises you to "... just file your application and if its denied, then we'll figure out what to do next." This should never be the basis of your decision to take on the burden of proving that you are disabled from your usual duties. An experienced retirement litigator will be able to assist you in enforcing your right to have the employer make the application.Our law firm has already established THAT law against the County of Riverside in a CalPERS case.
Or maybe there is a psychological aspect to your disability claim. Your worker's compensation case may be limited because of the reform laws enacted to restrict an employee's right to benefits for an emotional injury. Our law firm has already obtained the Supreme Court decision that worker's compensation reform rules do not control a disability retirement claim.
Second, is the hearing of a denied claim -
When a disability retirement claim goes to hearing, the dispute is usually between competing doctor's opinions. Often the employer, or pension fund, will hire a defense doctorversed in denying disability retirement claims who must be cross-examined and shown to have relied on incorrect legal theories, incorrect medical history or incorrect employment factors.
In CalPERS cases, where disability is established there can be a need for a second hearing before the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board where the only issue is whether the officer or firefighter's disability is "industrial." Again, our law firm has already obtained a decision from the Supreme Court that details that "industrial" does not require the employee to prove that their employment was more than a real and measurable contributing factor.
The third aspect of disability cases involves the appeal rights of a denied applicant -
Here one must first appeal to the Superior Court and follow all the rules for arguing that the decision to deny a claim should be reversed. Following the Superior Court, an employee also has the right to appeal to the California Court of Appeal and to also, thereafter, petition to the Supreme Court for relief. Our law firm has successfully handled cases at every appellate level.
But even the most vigorus pursuit of a disability claim can end in denial.
What then? If a claim has been finally denied, the officer or firefightfer's right to reinstatement, either to their job or at least to the payroll (back pay and benefits), must be reviewed and pursued in meritorious cases. Our law firm has successfully litigated reinstatement cases arising under both CalPERS and the County Retirement Systems.
Industrial Disability Retirement for Police Officers, Deputy Sheriffs and Firefighters