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Vermont physician sues D-H, alleging breach of contract



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 09, 2019

BURLINGTON — A Vermont physician alleges that Dartmouth-Hitchcock rescinded an employment offer after he had taken steps to close his private practice and move to the Upper Valley, causing damage to his business and reputation.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Burlington on Monday, Dr. Andrew Haig, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in northern Vermont, said that D-H rescinded an offer of employment in May after Haig had notified his 750 patients that he would be closing his Williston, Vt., practice, Haig Physical Medicine, and worked to obtain the necessary credentials to practice in New Hampshire.

Haig, who now lives in Addison, Vt., estimates the cost of winding down his practice, as well as his consulting business, Haig Consulting, exceeded $1,000.

But, he said in the filing, “the cost to rebuild a practice and a reputation is far greater.”

Though Haig did not have a signed contract with D-H, he alleges that he had a “handshake deal” with the Lebanon-based health care system that he would begin work on approximately July 1 as the chairman of occupational and rehabilitation medicine. The position would have replaced that of chairman of occupational and environmental medicine, which previously was occupied by Dr. Robert McLellan, who retired, and then was filled on an interim basis by Dr. Carolyn Murray, according to Haig’s filing.

Haig said in the filing that the hiring process began last October and, after two rounds of interviews, Dr. Richard Rothstein, D-H’s chairman of the Department of Medicine, verbally offered him the job in March. Haig alleges that he had originally expected to see a formal, written offer from D-H at that time, but that hospital officials delayed repeatedly, even as they were encouraging him to prepare to take the job.

Haig said that he and Rothstein had negotiated and agreed on the details of his employment at D-H, including a guaranteed annual salary of $300,000 for two years and how his time would be allocated.

“At the last possible minute, Dr. Rothstein told Dr. Haig that he had been instructed to withdraw the offer,” Haig’s Norwich-based attorney Geoffrey Vitt said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “No explanation was provided then nor has one been provided to date.”

D-H spokesman Rick Adams declined to comment on the pending litigation. Rothstein did not respond to a Tuesday email seeking comment.

The field of physical medicine and rehabilitation focuses on non-surgical alternatives to help patients — such as those recovering from spinal cord injuries, strokes and childhood disabilities — manage pain and improve function, in part through working with teams including physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and psychologists.

Haig earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1983, and then completed his residency at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago — now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, he said in his filing. He is an emeritus professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan and previously served on the faculty at the University of Vermont.

He is certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine and the American Board of Pain Medicine; and has published dozens of journal articles, won awards and helped to train doctors in the U.S., as well as Africa, Ukraine and Brunei, according to an online resume.

In order to rebuild his business in recent months, Haig said he has opened a satellite office in Middlebury, Vt., at a cost of $550 per month. In addition, he alleges that D-H’s failure to follow through on the alleged job offer has affected Haig’s international work, delayed his wife’s plans to establish a speech pathology practice and thwarted their efforts to find a permanent home.

In addition to breach of contract, Haig also is suing D-H for promissory estoppel (meaning the alleged promise of a job should be enforced by law) and negligent misrepresentation. He is seeking compensation for damages including lost wages, loss of business income, expenses incurred for preparing to work at D-H, interest, and “cooperation from D-H as reasonably needed to repair reputational damages caused by D-H’s decisions.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.