Legal battle ends over pension benefits for Ill. firefighter who died of cancer

The village of Buffalo Grove has chosen not to appeal the full line-of-duty pension benefits awarded to Firefighter Kevin Hauber's family


Karen Ann Cullotta
Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago, Ill.

BUFFALO GROVE, Ill. — The widow of a 51-year-old Buffalo Grove firefighter who died of colon cancer expressed relief Wednesday that the legal battle to receive her late husband’s full line-of-duty pension benefit has come to an end.

On Tuesday, the village of Buffalo Grove announced that officials have chosen not to appeal a recent Illinois Appellate Court decision that affirmed a 100% line-of-duty pension award for the widow of late firefighter Kevin Hauber, who died in 2018.

Buffalo Grove Firefighter Kevin Hauber, 51, died from colon cancer in 2018. Buffalo Grove has chosen not to appeal the latest court decision to award full line-of-duty pension benefits to Hauber's family. (Photo/Buffalo Grove Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Local 3177 Facebook)
Buffalo Grove Firefighter Kevin Hauber, 51, died from colon cancer in 2018. Buffalo Grove has chosen not to appeal the latest court decision to award full line-of-duty pension benefits to Hauber's family. (Photo/Buffalo Grove Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Local 3177 Facebook)

“My daughters and I are happy that this is finally over and we can continue the grieving process,” Kim Hauber, 41, said Wednesday.

While the move by the Buffalo Grove Village Board means the case will not be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, village officials said in a statement that their decision to end the legal battle does not mean they agree with the ruling.

“While we continue to disagree with the decision, we do not wish to pursue this matter further,” Village Manager Dane Bragg said in a statement.

“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 said. "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.”

But Thomas Mazur, an attorney for the Hauber family, disagreed with the village’s contention that the case could set a precedent with negative consequences for taxpayers.

“It does not set a new precedent, but it does affirm the Illinois Pension Code, which says that firefighters or police officers who are injured or die in the line-of-duty can get the benefits they paid for through their careers,” Mazur said.

While Mazur said pensions are supplemented in part by taxpayer dollars, he said the “large majority” of the money comes from investment returns, and “members putting their own money into their pensions.”

“There is a promise that municipalities make to employees, that they will take care of them when something like this happens,” Mazur said. “I can’t think of a family who gave more than the Haubers, who lost a husband and father. This can’t be a victory for Kim, but at least she’ll be able to stop the harassment from her late husband’s employers.”

Buffalo Grove’s decision to end their fight over the Hauber pension award arrives after a lengthy court battle to overturn a 100% line-of-duty death pension benefit awarded to the family, which was approved by the village’s Firefighters’ Pension Board in 2018 and upheld in 2019 by a Lake County Circuit Court judge.

Buffalo Grove appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Second District Appellate Court, where three appellate court judges ruled unanimously last month to uphold the 100% line-of-duty pension benefit for the Hauber family.

The family’s lawyers have argued that Hauber’s job duties and exposure to carcinogens contributed to his colon cancer.

Appellate Justice Joseph Birkett said last year that before making a ruling the lower court reviewed Hauber’s medical history, which found no history of colon cancer in his family, which was affirmed by genetic testing.

“He was 51, and otherwise in good health, and was not a drinker, and there’s no genetic predisposition found, and he was exposed to fires. The village’s own job description describes exposure to toxic substances,” Birkett said at the time. “Firefighters are exposed to cancerous substances, and in this case, there’s proof in the record that he was exposed to smoke and chemicals.”

Village officials have previously contended that Hauber’s widow, who is the mother of the couple’s four daughters, was only entitled to a surviving spouse benefit, which is equal to 75% of her late husband’s final salary of $101,549, or $76,161 annually.

On Wednesday, Kim Hauber said while she is thankful for the support she and her children have received from both friends and strangers, she remains disheartened that the village of Buffalo Grove put her family through a court battle.

“It is upsetting that at the end of the day, my husband was just considered a liability and an expense to the village administrators,” Hauber said. “They ensured we relived his death over and over for the past two years. My hope is that no other employee or family ever has to go through this.”

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©2020 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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