Friday, June 21, 2013

UPDATED: Former Township Manager Stephen Bonanni Filed Lawsuit Against Wawa Inc.; Injured While Working for the Township

Credit: CBSPhilly Channel 3

UPDATE: On June 21, 2013, Atlantic County Superior Court confirmed the Lawsuit filed by former township Manager Stephen Bonanni against Wawa Inc., has been dismissed. Discovery in the case ended on June 11, 2013 and on June 19, 2013 the case was dismissed. Documents will be released by Superior Court once the Judge signs the dismissal paperwork, according to the Court.

On January 26, 2012, just one day after Former Township Manager Stephen Bonanni received his Retirement Farewell from Galloway Township Council, he filed a Complaint with Jury Demand against Wawa Inc.  The Complaint was filed in Atlantic County Superior Court. Bonnani amended the complaint in June 2012 to include another company, Evergreen Consolidated LLC. 

As this how this lawsuit relates to the Township, well, Council said their goodbyes to Bonanni during a Council Meeting on January 25, 2012, after he submitted a letter of resignation just weeks prior. Bonanni tendered a resignation with an effective date of January 31, 2012. However, Bonanni never showed up for work after that Council meeting according to Mayor Don Purdy.

According to the complaint, Bonanni alleges he "slipped and fell (on February 8, 2010) and sustained injuries causing permanent disability, permanent significant disfigurement and permanent loss of bodily function or loss of a body member in whole or in part; has incurred or will incur expenses for the treatment of these injuries, inclusive of hospital expenses, x-rays and other diagnostic expenses; has been disabled and in the future will be disabled and not able to perform his usual functions; has been caused and in the future will be caused great pain and suffering to a great loss and damage."

Bonanni alleges the incident occurred at the Wawa convenience store at the corner of the White Horse Pike (Route 30) and Tilton Road. Although the complaint states the location was in the City of Egg Harbor, that particular Wawa store is located in Galloway Township.

According to the complaint, Bonanni slipped and fell due to icy walking surfaces which were unsafe, hazardous and/or defective walking surfaces.

In 2010, at the time of the incident, Bonanni was employed with the Township of Galloway as Director of Public Works.  According to Bonanni's time sheets, released by the Township, Bonanni was working the day the incident occurred. In fact he logged a full 8 hour day on his time sheet which was signed by Bonanni. 

It is unclear from the Court Documents whether Bonanni was on Township time when he fell or after hours. According to an employee in the Township, Bonanni was with another Township employee when the incident occurred, giving the assumption he was on Township time.

According to the complaint, Bonanni sustained injuries causing permanent injury. With such injury, we reviewed Bonanni's time sheets during the same time period to see how much time Bonanni had to take off of work due to his injury. We were surprised to see Bonanni never took a single day off of work, including the day after he fell. Bonanni worked full 8 hour days for a month straight, minus Holidays.

A request for comment was sent to Township Manager Arch Liston requesting if the Township was aware of such litigation being filed against Wawa for an injury that may have occurred while on Township time. We also requested if the Township had any paperwork in reference to such claims of injury.  Liston replied with "Call Me." We immediately contacted Liston who indicated he did not want a paper trail on comments. Liston indicated in the phone interview that he was aware of the lawsuit and that the insurance company for workman's compensation was monitoring the litigation. If an award was made, the insurance company would make sure any money paid out for workman's compensation would be recuperated.

A request for comment was also sent to Mayor Don Purdy. In a phone conversation, Purdy was not aware such complaint was made nor was he aware the incident occurred in 2010. Purdy asked if Wawa paid out on the claim, in turn we responded, not that we could verify. Purdy was the Deputy Mayor at the time and had no idea such injury occurred to Bonanni.

Concerned as to why this injury was secret, we submitted an Open Public Records Request for any workman compensation payments, according to Liston, the Township would have been responsible for on Bonanni's injury that the insurance company was monitoring. In a response from Township Clerk Thalia TC Kay, there were no such records for our request. Based on that response we assume the Township has no record of any injury to Bonanni or any payments for treatment. 

In a timeline of events, Bonanni's injury occurred on February 8, 2010, leaving him two years to file a lawsuit for any alleged injuries. Bonanni's deadline would have been February 8, 2012. Speculation of Bonanni's retirement grew around that timeframe when Bonanni became under intense public scrutiny from media reports. Some media outlets began to question if Bonanni was forced to retire or resign from his positions because of those media reports.

In several long conversations we had with Mayor Don Purdy, one in April 2012 and one this year in January 2013, the question was raised as to the reason why Bonanni retired. In April 2012, Purdy stated Bonanni was not given an option. He was asked to resign his position as Township Manager in January 2012. According to Purdy, Bonanni requested to remain as Public Works Director of which Purdy stated he would not allow.  In a heated meeting that took place in the Manager's Office with Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola present, Purdy indicated he gave no other options to Bonanni other than to retire and then Purdy left the meeting. After that, the media was notified of Bonanni's retirement.

In a 3-hour meeting we had with Purdy in January 2013, we raised the question again in front of witnesses as to the real reason Bonanni retired. Purdy stated, Bonanni wasn't forced to retire but said he knew he didn't have the support to keep Bonanni in his position any longer. Which means Bonanni was on his way out as Township Manager in Janaury 2012. Since Bonanni had tenure as Public Works Director, he could have forced Purdy's hand and resigned as Township Manager while maintaining his Public Works position, instead, Bonanni retired or was ultimately forced out.

Leaving to question, did Bonanni really retire because he lost support of Council or did Bonanni actually retire because he was set to file a lawsuit against Wawa Inc., alleging permanent disability that the Township was not aware of? Could Bonanni have filed that lawsuit and still worked in the position of Director of Public Works which required hard labor, if he was permanently disabled? How could Council not know?

As other employees in the Township become injured, they are required to go through a battery of tests before they can return to work, some of which would have been Bonanni's employees. Did Bonanni have to go through those tests as well? We did not submit a request for those documents because even if they existed, they would never be released as they are exempt under the Open Public Records Act. 

Bonanni recently filed a Notice of Claim also know as a Tort Claim against the Township of Galloway. Council voted in February 2013 to deny Bonanni over $51,000 in accumulated leave following his retirement. Bonanni is represented by Benjamin Brenner Esq., of the Carroll Law Firm located in Galloway Township for that claim. Brenner stated to Galloway Patch, the act of denying Former Manager implies he did something wrong.

For the Lawsuit against Wawa Inc., Bonanni is represented by Alan J. Cohen, Esq., of McAllister, Hyberg, White, Cohen & Mann. 

On March 16, 2012, Wawa Inc., represented by William J. Kohler, Esq., of Cooper Levenson, filed an answer to Bonanni's allegation's. In part, the answers filed were mostly denied or the Plaintiff (Bonanni) is left to its proof.

As of 2013, the Lawsuit against Wawa Inc., is still on-going in Atlantic County Superior Court. As far as the Township, according to Liston, they are watching and waiting for the outcome.


Anonymous said...

That is pretty good investigative reporting. The Township should get back the money if he gets paid by WaWa.

Ron schreiber said...

Really maybe he should get a Massage worked before . maybe a "Happy Ending " would help .

Anonymous said...

This is no surprise and falls in line with this guys character. He is a self serving, corrupt opportunist. Bury this sham Christian scumbag with the proof of his actions. He's already been stripped of his dignity, it's been proven that he has no integrity and he's been run out of town to hide under a rock in Florida. He has nothing to lose and it's those that are the most dangerous. This guy is taxpayer cancer.

Anonymous said...

Not shocked but why wasn't this picked up before when everyone was digging into this guys past? Glad it's out now. Shows you Council has no idea what is going on in this town. Your Manager sues one of its biggest chain companies in town and they had no idea?

Anonymous said...

I'll bet this story is the reason why the lawsuit against wawa was dismissed. How can you be permanently disabled and still work?

Anonymous said...

It's refreshing to see a bogus lawsuit of this nature dismissed by the courts. How many systems will this guy try to exploit.

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