A former Oak Park cop who suffered a catastrophic back injury on the job has won his case against the village of Oak Park and will receive Public Safety Employee Benefit Act (PSEBA) benefits, following a ruling by Judge Michael T. Mullen.
Oak Park Police Officer Ronald Torkilsen was on routine police patrol on Sept. 30, 2012, when he stopped a man he observed pushing a lawnmower while riding a bicycle.
Torkilsen suspected the man had stolen the lawnmower and lifted the bicycle to check the serial number to determine if it was stolen. When he lifted the bike, he “felt a pop in his lower back and experienced shooting pain that traveled down one of his legs,” according to court records.
The injury prevented Torkilsen, 36 at the time, from returning to work. Torkilsen applied to Oak Park for PSEBA medical benefits, which would have provided him and his family lifetime medical benefits from the village.
Oak Park conducted a two-day hearing on the application in March 2016, where hearing officer Cara Pavlicek, who also is Oak Park’s village manager, denied the claim.
Court records explain that to receive lifetime medical benefits Torkilsen had to show the injury occurred in response to a fresh pursuit, in response to an emergency, as a result of an unlawful act committed by another or during the investigation of a criminal act.
The case, in part, hinged on whether the injury occurred during the investigation of a criminal act. Oak Park concluded that since a criminal act had not occurred, Torkilsen was not eligible for PSEBA benefits.
The court ruling noted that “Oak Park interpreted the phrase ‘investigation of a criminal act’ in its most literal sense.”
“According to Oak Park, only after a crime has occurred can there be an investigation of a criminal act,” Mullen noted in the decision. “This interpretation is highly problematic because it fails to explain how an officer may charge an individual with a crime without conducting an investigation.”
Mullen called Oak Park’s interpretation “an illogical and absurd reading of the statute.”
LaGrange-based attorney Thomas Morrissey, who represented Torkilsen, said in a telephone interview that his client feels vindicated by the decision.
“Torkilsen falls under the purview of the act because he meets one of the four requirements,” Morrissey said. “We’re pleased with the result, and I thought the village of Oak Park attorney did an excellent job relaying his argument.”
Pavlicek declined to comment on the decision. Torkilsen could not be reached for comment.