Spouse of Deceased Connecticut Deputy Chief Sues Over Pension Benefits

The spouse of a well-known Connecticut firefighter who died from cancer in 2017, has filed suit claiming the city has failed to honor its pension commitments to her and her son. Lori Pepler filed the suit naming the City of Torrington, the police and fire pension board, and twelve members of the board.

Chris Pepler was an 18-year veteran and deputy chief with the Torrington Fire Department when he passed away. Despite medical certification that Chief Pepler’s cancer “was caused by exposures he received during his work for over 18 years as a fireman for the City of Torrington,” the city has refused to provide any survivor benefits to his family for the past four years.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-433b mandates in pertinent part that “the survivors of any uniformed or regular member of a paid fire department of any regular member of a paid police department whose death has been suffered in the line of duty shall be eligible to receive such survivor benefits as are provided for in the Workers” Compensation Act and in addition they shall receive such survivor benefits as may be provided for in the retirement system in which such department member was a participant at the time of his death.
  • The Legislature has authorized municipalities to pay these survivor benefits from its general fund as well as from any retirement system.
  • Section 11 of the City’s Police & Fire Pension Fund provides in pertinent part that “If any member of the Fire Department is killed while in the actual performance of duty, or dies
  • from the effects of any injury received while in the actual discharge of duty…the Board of
  • Trustees, by the affirmative majority of its whole number, shall direct a sum equal to 100% of
  • the employees annual compensation payable in monthly installment to the surviving spouse…”
  • In addition, the surviving spouse and child of a Fire Department member who dies in active duty is entitled to continue such medical benefits as were afforded to her and the fireman’s children while the fireman was alive.

The lawsuit filed in Waterbury Superior Court seeks a declaratory judgment finding that

“Christopher Pepler’s death was in the line of duty and that his spouse and son are eligible for death benefits and medical benefits under §11 of the Pension Plan. It also alleges a breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

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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