Court Rules Disabled Missouri Firefighter Entitled to Reduced Benefits

A Jasper County Circuit Court has ruled that a disabled Missouri firefighter is entitled to a pension that is only one-third of his pre-injury income.

Joplin firefighter Tom Robertson was forced to leave the fire department in January 2011 due to a work-related lung problem. At the time he had 15 years and 11 months of service, short of the required 20 years minimum for a retirement.

His disability rating was 37.5 percent, which should have left him with monthly payments of approximately $1,900 per month. However, the Police and Firefighters Pension Fund and the City of Joplin reduced the payment to $1400 per month, citing a provision that provided for a reduction for each year of service less than 20. Robertson sued challenging the reduction calculation.

Circuit Court Judge David Mouton initially ruled that Robertson’s monthly payment should be raised to $1,931.74, up from $1,448.80. The judge also awarded Robertson $10,978.43 in back pay and interest. However, the city appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals who reversed and returned the case to Judge Mouton for further consideration.

At trial, the city expressed a concern that it and the pension fund could be bankrupted if the court ruled against it and multiple police officers or firefighters were injured or killed on the job. Following the ruling, Robertson told the Joplin Globe that firefighters now needed to purchase their own disability insurance to ensure they can provide for their families.

More on the story.

WEEKEND RANT: The city’s bankruptcy argument raises an interesting question, one I thought had been answered nearly a century ago when workers comp laws were first enacted: If firefighters are killed or injured serving their community, should the prospect of bankruptcy be shouldered by the firefighters and their families, or by the community they serve?

What kind of person would suggest that the financial burden of a work related injury should fall upon an injured firefighter and their family?

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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