Judge awards full pension to widow of Buffalo Grove firefighter
A Buffalo Grove firefighter's fatal bout with cancer was a result of his work, meaning his widow should receive his full salary for the rest of her life, a Lake County judge ruled Tuesday.
Kimberly Hauber covered her face and wept as Judge Diane Winters upheld the village fire pension board's decision to grant her full line-of-duty death benefits.
Her husband, Kevin Hauber, 51, died in January 2018 after a four-year bout with colon cancer. A Buffalo Grove firefighter since 1994, he left behind his wife and their four young daughters.
"I'm still in shock," Kimberly Hauber said outside the courtroom Tuesday, where she exchanged hugs with some of the more than two dozen firefighters from Buffalo Grove and surrounding departments there to support her. "It was really good to have so much support in the room from the firefighters."
Winter's decision upholds a first-of-its-kind ruling in Illinois. The Buffalo Grove pension board voted in May that Hauber's colon cancer was a result of firefighting, entitling his wife to his full pension of $101,549 a year for the rest of her life.
"After 127 documented calls, there was sufficient evidence of exposure to smoke," Winter said in her ruling.
The village of Buffalo Grove had appealed the pension board's decision, arguing that Kimberly Hauber should instead receive up to 75 percent of her husband's annual salary, or about $76,162. That payment would then drop to about $60,000 after their daughters reached 18.
According to the village, the pension board's line-of-duty finding adds a $1.7 million liability to the firefighter pension fund.
Attorney Bill Nichols, who represented the village, did not comment on Tuesday's decision and would not say whether the village intends to appeal.
But in court, Nichols argued there is no specific, clear evidence to prove Kevin Hauber's role as a firefighter caused his colon cancer, or that he was exposed to cancer-causing agents while on the job.
"There was no particular or specific event tying his firefighting to colon cancer," Nichols said.
However, pension board attorney Carolyn Clifford said panel members made their decision after reviewing studies and medical reports linking cancer to firefighting.
"I'm happy with the judge's decision that the pension board used the right evidence in making a very difficult decision regarding the pension in this case," said Larry Lezon, vice-president of Buffalo Grove Professional Firefighter/Paramedic Association Local 3177.