Service-Connected Disability Retirements for County Employees

Although we have been handling county employee service and non-service connected disability retirements for decades, recently this practice area has grown. At any given time, we represent five or more county employees who are seeking a disability retirement.

Want to File an Application for a County Disability Retirement?

If you are interested in filing an application for a county disability retirement, you should legal representation because the stakes are so high. Strauss Law Group usually represents employees on a contingency basis, meaning that we only get paid if we win. Contact Strauss Law Group now for a free case evaluation or call us 24/7 at (805) 641-9992 or (877) 641-9992 (toll free).

One of the reasons for the increase in disability retirement cases that we handle is that we have had enormous success in these types of cases. Few, if any, other law firms have the expertise, experience, knowledge of the system, or ability to successfully represent county employees in their applications for disability retirement. Indeed, we are on the short list of firms in Ventura County that will even take these cases. Our goals are not only to be the only such firm, but also to continue being the best.

Contact Strauss Law Group now for more information about disability retirements.

Legal Standard for Service-Connected Disability Retirements

The standard for determining service?connected disability is set forth in Government Code section 31720, which provides in relevant part:

“Any member permanently incapacitated for the performance of duty shall be retired for disability regardless of age if, and only if:

“(a) The member’s incapacity is a result of injury or disease arising out of and in the course of the member’s employment, and such employment contributes substantially to such incapacity, or

“(b) The member has completed five years of service, and

“(c) The member has not waived retirement in respect to the particular incapacity or aggravation thereof as provided by Section 31009.”(Gov. Code § 31720.)

Of the elements of this legal standard, the one over which most legal fights arise are (1) what does it mean to be “permanently incapacitated for the performance of duty” and (2) is the employee’s incapacity job-related.

Permanently Incapacitated for the Performance of Duty

Established California case law holds that “permanently incapacitated for the performance of duty” means “the substantial inability of the applicant to perform his usual duties.” Thus, the board of retirement must look at the applicant’s usual job duties as of her last day of work and determine whether her current condition would allow her to perform them. If she cannot perform her usual duties, and all the other elements for a service-connected disability retirement are met, then her application should be granted.

Currently, Strauss Law Group is engaged in litigation with the Ventura County Employee Retirement Association and the County of Ventura over the application of the “usual duties” standard. Strauss Law Group alleges that the County is applying the wrong legal standard. The County has taken the position that the “usual duties” standard does not apply if the County has made an offer to the applicant to perform modified job duties that the applicant should be able to perform. Strauss Law Group is arguing that there is no legal support for the County’s position. If you are representing yourself in a service-connected disability retirement case, beware of this trap. You will need competent legal representation to avoid the denial of your application.

The Injury must be Job Related

This element is usually easily satisfied. An employee can usually trace her injury to an accident at work. However, in cases where the applicant is psychologically injured, it is more difficult to establish the job-relatedness of the injury.

Strauss Law Group has successfully represented county employees whose injuries have been psychological in nature. However, these cases are generally more difficult to prove and the County will likely fight them harder. We recommend that you seek competent legal counsel if you plan on filing an application for service-connected disability retirement based on a psychological injury.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What will I get if my application for service-connected disability retirement is granted?

A successful applicant for a service-connected disability retirement can expect to receive a lump sum consisting of backpay from the last date he worked until the date of payment of his disability retirement benefits. Furthermore, he will receive monthly payments for the rest of his life consisting of a high percentage of his monthly income at the time of his last day of work.

Ventura County employees can calculate their retirement benefits here.

What is the statute of limitations for the filing of an application for a service-connected disability retirement?

The statute of limitations (i.e., the length of time you can wait before filing your application for a disability retirement) may be as short as four months. It may also be indefinite. Contact competent legal counsel to make sure you know exactly how long you have to file your application.

Can I represent myself in a disability retirement case?

You may, but do so at your own risk! We are often brought in as counsel of record in cases where applicants have attempted to represent themselves, and the results are never pretty. Frankly, you run the risk of losing what could be a very substantial amount of money by representing yourself. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Does Strauss Law Group take service-connected disability retirement cases on a contingency basis, or will I have to pay an hourly fee for your services?

Depending on the types of cases involved, Strauss Law Group may take cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that we will only get paid if your application is successful. However, you must remember that not all cases are equal in value or difficulty, so Strauss Law Group may still require that you pay an hourly fee. In the end, it may make more sense for you to pay hourly, so it is impossible to say what the payment situation will be if we represent you.

Is the standard different for non-service-connected disability retirements?

Yes. An application for a non-service-connected disability retirement may be granted when the employee’s injury is not job related, but she cannot perform her “usual duties.” The benefits for a non-service-connected disability retirement are not as generous as those for service-connected disability retirements.

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