On December 10, 2019 the Second District Appellate Court heard Oral Argument in the Village of Buffalo Grove v. Board of Trustees of the Buffalo Grove Firefighters’ Pension Fund. The pension board awarded a line of duty death benefit (100% of salary attached to rank) to the surviving spouse of a firefighter with 23 years of service who died as a result of colon cancer. The firefighter did not have a family history of colon cancer. The trial court affirmed the pension board’s decision and the Village appealed.
The Village argued the doctors relied on the occupational disease disability statute standards (and presumptions contained therein) as opposed to the line of duty death standard which would have required linking the death to the performance of specific acts of duty or the cumulative effects of acts of duty. The Village argued that evidence of responding to 127 fire calls, in and of itself, was insufficient to establish causation with respect to the cancer.
The matter originally started as an occupational disease disability pension claim while the firefighter was still alive. However, upon his death, the pension board shifted the claim to a line of duty death claim. One question is whether the pension board can rely on the doctors’ opinions from the occupational disease claim to satisfy the line of duty death claim. Another question is whether the firefighter’s or the survivor’s rights prevail when the firefighter died before the pension board awarded an occupational disease disability pension. The surviving spouse’s widow argued that section 4-114(j) (the line of duty death statute) trumps any survivorship rights under a disability statute assuming the death resulted from the performance of an act of duty or the cumulative effects of acts of duty.