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Bonanno v. Verizon Business Network Systems

Supreme Court of Vermont

February 28, 2014

Nicholas Bonanno
Verizon Business Network Systems and Sedgwick Claims Management Systems

Page 147

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Civil Division. Brian J. Grearson, J.

Christopher McVeigh of McVeigh Skiff, Burlington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

J. Christopher Callahan and Brendan P. Donahue of Brady & Callahan, P.C., Springfield, for Defendants-Appellees.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Burgess and Robinson, JJ.


Page 148

Reiber, C.J.

[¶1] Plaintiff Nicholas Bonanno appeals from the superior court's grant of summary judgment against him and in favor of his employer, Verizon, and Verizon's third-party claims administrator, Sedgwick Claims Management. Plaintiff's claims stem from an alleged breach of a settlement agreement with employer regarding his workers' compensation claim. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred because there was a dispute of material fact as to the voluntariness of employer's temporary total disability (TTD) payments made to plaintiff after the TTD termination date indicated in the settlement. Plaintiff also contends that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding inadequate attorney's fees. Employer

Page 149

cross-appeals and argues that the trial court abused in its discretion by awarding any attorney's fees. We affirm the trial court in all respects.

[¶2] The factual context for this case is somewhat convoluted. Plaintiff was employed by employer Verizon when he suffered spinal cord injuries during a series of three car accidents. Litigation commenced when employer contested the necessity of a surgery proposed by plaintiff, and the Department of Labor ruled in plaintiff's favor, requiring employer to pay for plaintiff's surgery. N.B. v. Verizon, Op. No. 24-08WC (June 12, 2008), Plaintiff experienced complications from the surgery that necessitated lifetime care, including deep vein thrombosis and postphlebitic syndrome. Employer appealed the Department's ruling to the superior court. The parties reached a settlement before trial, although the parties dispute exactly when they reached agreement. What is certain, however, is that the Department approved the settlement on July 13, 2010, after receiving a statement from plaintiff explaining that the settlement was in his best interest and requesting the Department's approval.

[¶3] The provisions of the approved " Form 15" settlement agreement relevant to the instant case included: (1) a lump sum payment of $230,000 to be paid within fifteen days of the Department's approval of the settlement; (2) payment of continued TTD benefits through May 1, 2010; and (3) payment of plaintiff's " regular medical benefits" until thirty days after federal approval of the submitted Medicare Set Aside Trust.

[¶4] In July 2010, employer issued plaintiff a check for $216,990.28. In response to plaintiff's inquiry as to why the check did not reflect the full amount of the agreed-upon settlement, employer explained that it had taken a credit for TTD payments made after May 1, 2010. Plaintiff disputed the amount of the credit. Plaintiff also disputed employer's refusal, through its third-party administrator, to pay a medical bill resulting from a doctor's visit on May 25, 2010. Third-party administrator's claims adjuster maintained that the visit was not related to plaintiff's work injury.

[¶5] On October 15, 2010, plaintiff brought the current suit against both employer and third-party administrator to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. Plaintiff claimed that defendants improperly took a credit by subtracting the TTD payments made after May 1, 2010 from the lump sum payment, miscalculated the amount of the credit, and wrongfully denied plaintiff's medical bill. As to the credit calculation claim, employer conceded error and issued two checks amounting to the miscalculation plus interest. Employer continued to maintain, however, that it was entitled to a credit for the post-May 1 TTD payments. Regarding the May 25, 2010 doctor's appointment, defendants submitted, and the court granted, a motion to compel ...

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