Buffalo Grove won't ask Illinois Supreme Court to overturn controversial firefighter pension ruling
Buffalo Grove will not ask the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a landmark lower court ruling that grants full pension benefits to the widow of Kevin Hauber, a village firefighter who died in 2018 after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
Village Manager Dave Bragg announced the decision in a written statement Tuesday, stating that while the village continues to disagree with the decision, it will no longer challenge it in court.
"The village maintains this decision sets a dangerous precedent for all property taxpayers; not only for those who live in Buffalo Grove, but for all taxpayers in Illinois," Bragg wrote. "The implications for other cases to occur where legal standards are not met and causation is not proven could prove financially devastating to an already stressed pension system in the state of Illinois."
The decision to end the litigation comes a little more than two weeks after a state appellate court upheld a Lake County judge's decision awarding a full pension -- about $101,549 a year -- to Kimberly Hauber.
Kevin Hauber, 51, died in January 2018, after a nearly 24-year career with the Buffalo Grove Fire Department. The village's fire pension board later determined that his cancer was caused by his work as a firefighter, making his survivors eligible for full line-of-duty benefits.
The village disputed the finding, arguing that Hauber's family instead should receive 75% of his pension, about $76,161 a year. The difference, according to the village, will amount to about $1.7 million.
A Lake County judge sided with the pension board last year, and on Jan. 17 the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the ruling. In its 29-page decision, the appeals court notes that Hauber responded to 127 fire calls in his career, which amounts to "circumstantial evidence of exposure to noxious and carcinogenic substances."
Thomas Duda, the attorney for the Hauber family, speculated that the village decided to cut its losses rather than continuing with a costly legal fight against long odds. Unlike the appellate court, the Supreme Court could simply decline to hear the village's case, he noted.
"This case, in my opinion, doesn't fit any of the typical grounds that the court would consider for such a petition," Duda said. "It doesn't break new ground."
Duda said Hauber's family -- including Kimberly and four daughters -- was hurt that the village offered "token condolences" while trying to lower their pension payments.
"They feel very betrayed," he said. "Her husband served for over 20 years and he saved people's lives and risked his own. They (were) very distraught that the village (was) trying to fight them tooth and nail."