Buffalo Grove appeals controversial firefighter pension ruling
Saying there is no sufficient evidence to link firefighting with colon cancer, Buffalo Grove officials on Wednesday filed an appeal to overturn a ruling awarding line-of-duty death benefits to the widow of a veteran firefighter who died last year after a four-year battle with the disease.
The appeal asks an appellate court to reverse a Lake County judge's Feb. 5 decision granting the widow of Kevin Hauber his full pension of $101,549 a year for the rest of her life. The decision upheld the Buffalo Grove's Firefighters Pension Board's ruling that Hauber's cancer was caused by his job, a first-of-its-kind finding in Illinois.
Village officials argue that medical science does not back up that claim, and Hauber's widow, Kimberly Hauber, instead should receive 75 percent of his pension, about $76,161 a year. The difference, according to the village, will amount to about $1.7 million.
"We continue to mourn the loss of Kevin Hauber and are grateful for the contributions he made to our community; however, we are also required to uphold our core obligation to be responsible stewards of property taxpayers' funds," Village Manager Dane Bragg said in an announcement of the appeal. "The Village of Buffalo Grove believes that the burden of proof to receive the additional pension benefit was not met under the statutory requirements."
Thomas Duda, the attorney for Kimberly Hauber, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Besides the cost to Buffalo Grove, the village argues that if allowed to stand, the decision in Hauber's case could set a costly precedent for taxpayers across the state.
"This case represents a dangerous potential outcome for an already stressed pension system -- not only for the Village of Buffalo Grove, but for 297 municipalities and fire protection districts throughout Illinois," a statement from the village Tuesday reads.
With their announcement of the appeal, village officials also released a timeline of the case that contests the findings of the pension board and Lake County Judge Diane Winters. Contrary to those findings, the village argues "the substantial majority of studies" find no connection between firefighting and colon cancer.
"One study in the minority was noted as the most comprehensive, which showed there is only a half of a percentage point (. 5 percent) of increased risk of colon cancer for firefighters in the study, compared to the general public," the village document states.
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.