Posts Tagged village of Buffalo Grove challenges full pension award for firefighter’s family

Buffalo Grove Fire Department news (more)

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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 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.

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Buffalo Grove Fire Department news (more)

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The financial future of the family of a 51-year-old Buffalo Grove firefighter who died of colon cancer will soon be decided by a trio of appellate court judges who on Tuesday began considering a decision to award his widow and their four children her late husband’s full pension benefits.

The case involves the Village of Buffalo Grove’s appeal to the Second District Appellate Court to overturn a 100% line of duty death pension benefit award to the family of late Firefighter Kevin Hauber. The move to award full pension benefits was approved by the village’s Firefighters’ Pension Board in 2018 and upheld earlier this year by a Lake County Circuit Court judge.

Village officials said earlier this year that they appealed the lower court’s ruling to award Kevin Hauber’s widow the 100% line of duty death pension benefit award due to concerns that it could set what they described as, a dangerous and costly legal precedent. The village attorney said while Kevin Hauber provided 23 years of honorable service to the village, including some 127 calls that involved a fire, the burden of proof to receive the 100% line of duty benefit was not met under the state’s statutory requirements.

“There is no direct evidence of whether he was actually exposed to carcinogens and toxic smoke” that caused him to develop colon cancer, Nichols said.

One of the attorneys representing the Hauber family, disagreed, saying that the village’s job description for firefighters states that part of the job duties involve situations where they will be exposed to various toxic substances, including carcinogenic materials.

Appellate Justice Joseph Birkett on Tuesday said the lower court before making a ruling 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. “Firefighters are exposed to cancerous substances, and in this case, there’s proof in the record that he was exposed to smoke and chemicals.”

The village attorney told the justices to consider that Hauber never filed a formal complaint with the department regarding concerns about any incidents in which he may have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

Village officials have said that Hauber’s widow and daughters are 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. The Buffalo Grove Firefighters Pension Board awarded the additional pension benefit of about $25,000 annually to the Hauber family, a ruling based on the pension board’s conclusion that his service as a firefighter caused his colon cancer, of which he died in January 2018.

Village officials have said previously that they appealed the lower court judge’s ruling to uphold the 100% pension benefit to the Hauber family, as it would cost the village an estimated additional $1.7 million due to the line of duty death award.

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Buffalo Grove Fire Department news (more)

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After a judge decided a pension board could award the widow of a firefighter who died of colon cancer an additional $1.7 million, the village of Buffalo Grove has asked a state appeals court to weight in, maintaining its argument the pension board needs more evidence the firefighter’s death can be directly connected to his service as a firefighter.

“This is the first known decision in the State of Illinois where a firefighter’s widow has been awarded the maximum 100 percent line of duty death pension without having to prove that specific acts of duty during the firefighter’s service actually caused (or contributed to) the death,” the village said in a press release announcing the appeal.

The appeal to the Illinois Second District Appellate Court comes about a month since Lake County Circuit Judge Diane Winter backed the Buffalo Gove Firefighters’ Pension Fund Board in its dispute with the village over the pension awarded to the wife of Buffalo Grove Firefighter Kevin Hauber.

Kevin Hauber died of colon cancer in January 2018, and was 51 years old at the time of his death. He had served since 1994 in the fire department. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. While undergoing treatment, Hauber applied in October 2014 for a line-of-duty pension benefit. However, he returned to duty less than a year later and withdrew the application.

But in 2017, Hauber’s cancer returned, leading to his death a few months later. Before he died, Hauber applied again for a line-of-duty pension. The pension board evaluated that application in the summer of 2017, soliciting three independent medical evaluations of Hauber’s condition to determine if firefighting made him more likely to suffer this particular kind of cancer. After his death, two of the three medical evaluators indicated they believed it was possible.

The village, however, said more evidence was required because, the village claimed, two of the three doctors – both oncologists – did not “identity any aspect of … Hauber’s particular service as a firefighter that appeared to actually cause or contribute to his colon cancer.”

The pension board approved Hauber’s pension request, prompting the village to ask the courts to review the decision to award the enhanced benefit, which they estimated would conservatively add at least $1.7 million to the total lifetime payout to Hauber’s wife. Under a line-of-duty pension, Hauber’s widow would receive 100 percent of her late husband’s salary as an annuity, rather than the usual 75 percent under a non-line-of-duty pension.

According to the village, a standard pension would entitle a surviving spouse benefit of $76,162 per year. Under a line-of-duty pension, she would receive $101,549 per year.

After months of proceedings in Lake County court, Judge Winter sided in early February 2019 with the pension board, saying the medical evaluations and other research relied upon by the board sufficed. In her ruling, Judge Winter noted a number of specific calls Hauber purportedly responded to in his 23 year firefighting career, which likely exposed him to toxic inhalants and other hazards. She also noted Hauber “was in apparent good health and physical condition” and “didn’t have any of the factors typically responsible for contributing to the development of colon cancer.” She said tests also did not reveal a genetic predisposition to cancer in Hauber.

“The village has demanded that there be strict proof of specific occurrences in firefighter Hauber’s firefighting career that caused or contributed to his cancer,” Judge Winter said, according to the transcript. “With an illness such as cancer, such proof is unreasonable and certainly not required” under state law which requires “only … a showing of the cumulative effects of acts of duty over time…”

“The village asserts there is no evidence to link Kevin Hauber’s cancer to his career as a firefighter, and that’s simply untrue. There may not be a lot of evidence, but the Illinois Pension Code only requires some evidence as the pension board engages in its literal construction of determining Kim Hauber’s entitlement to a line-of-duty surviving spouse benefit,” the judge said.

In a prepared statement in the village’s news release announcing its appeal, Buffalo Grove Village Manager Dane Bragg said village officials “continue to mourn the loss of Kevin Hauber and are grateful for the contributions he made to our community.” But he said, the village continues to believe “the burden of proof to receive the additional pension benefit was not met under the statutory requirements.”

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Buffalo Grove Fire Department news (more)

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Lake County Circuit Court Judge Diane Winter ruled Tuesday that the family of 51-year-old Buffalo Grove Firefighter Kevin Hauber who died of colon cancer last year should receive a full pension benefit, upholding an earlier decision by a local review board that his fatal cancer was caused in the line of duty. Winter said two medical experts already found that Hauber’s death was likely the result of performing acts of duty, or cumulative acts of duty, which involved repeated exposure to toxic smoke and carcinogens while on the job.

Last summer, Buffalo Grove officials announced they were challenging a decision made earlier in 2018 by the Buffalo Grove Fire Department Pension Board that the family of  should receive a full line-of-duty death pension. Hauber, a veteran firefighter and paramedic in Buffalo Grove, died in January 2018, roughly four years after being diagnosed with colon cancer.

In the village’s lawsuit filed June 2018, Buffalo Grove officials said they were appealing the pension board’s decision because of their fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers, arguing the state’s pension laws require more evidence that Hauber’s fatal cancer was the result of his 23 years of firefighting. Village officials at the time estimated the full, 100-percent pension award of Hauber’s annual $100,000 salary would create an additional liability of $1.7 million compared to a 75-percent award that the Hauber family was qualified to receive.

The ruling also comes as debates about the still-unclear link between firefighting and cancer unfold across Illinois and the rest of the country. An ongoing, multiyear study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safely and Health of nearly 30,000 firefighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco fire departments has found higher rates of certain types of cancer among firefighters than the general population.

The study also supported a newly signed federal law, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, requiring the CDC to collect data via a voluntary registry as part of its ongoing research into whether firefighters’ work increases the odds of them developing some types of cancer.

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Buffalo Grove Fire Department news (more)

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Buffalo Grove officials announced Wednesday they are challenging a decision to award a full line-of-duty death pension to the widow of a 51-year-old Buffalo Grove firefighter, arguing not enough evidence exists that his fatal colon cancer was related to his work.

The full pension award for Kevin Hauber’s wife and their four children represented an unprecedented claim and marked the first award of its kind in Illinois after the Buffalo Grove Fire Department Pension Board determined earlier this year that his cancer was caused in the line of duty, village officials said in a statement.

But the board’s decision on a 3-2 vote back in March was made with the “absence of clear evidence or research proving that firefighting has a direct or indirect causal relationship with colon cancer,” officials said.

In announcing their appeal, Buffalo Grove officials said the only appropriate and fiduciary response was to challenge the pension board’s decision, which was reaffirmed by the board in May. Village officials estimated the full, 100-percent pension award would create an additional liability of $1.7 million compared to a 75-percent award that the Hauber family was qualified to receive.

Hauber, a veteran firefighter and paramedic in the village, died in January, roughly four years after being diagnosed with colon cancer. In the statement, officials believe a surviving spouse pension benefit equal to 75 percent of Hauber’s final salary is more appropriate than 100 percent.

The issue over Hauber’s death benefit touches on a volatile debate happening among local, state and federal lawmakers over whether cancer found in firefighters is the result of their work in the line of duty.

To that end, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began a multi-year study in 2010 of nearly 30,000 firefighters from departments in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to better understand the potential link between firefighting and cancer. Researchers found the firefighters who were studied showed higher rates of certain types of cancer than the general U.S. population. Based on U.S. cancer rates, firefighters in the study had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths, which were determined to be mostly digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers.

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