On May 25, 2003 at about 7 p.m., Miguel Bonano, then 19 years old, was driving a motorized dirt bike on Bryant Avenue near 167th Street in the Bronx when he crashed into the back of a parked car and sustained ankle fractures that required emergency surgery.
Miguel testified that as he was proceeding at about 15 miles per hour, he noticed a stopped car in the middle of the road and he veered right in an attempt to pass it. Then, suddenly, the right front-seat passenger door of the car opened and a hand reached out to grab him. Miguel “got nervous,” accelerated, mounted the sidewalk to “get away from the guy grabbing” him and then hit a parked car.
It turns out that the stopped car was an unmarked police vehicle with anti-crime officers inside. One of the officers testified that he opened his door only when he saw Bonano on the sidewalk a couple of car lengths behind the police car, intending to tell him to get off the sidewalk.
Bonano sued the city claiming that the officer who opened the door into his path was negligent and caused him to lose control of his dirt bike resulting in the crash and his injuries.
On June 6, 2012, at the end of the trial, the judge instructed the jury as to the applicable law, including Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1214 regarding opening and closing of car doors.
The jury substantially agreed with plaintiff’s version of the facts when it returned a verdict finding the city 85% at fault (and plaintiff 15% comparatively negligent).
As to damages, the jury awarded plaintiff $1,640,000 for his pain and suffering ($500,000 past – 10 years, $1,140,000 future – 20 years). The verdict has now been affirmed in Bonano v. City of New York (1st Dept. 2015).
As set forth in the appellate court’s decision, plaintiff sustained comminuted fractures of his fibula, tibia and talus that required three surgeries and will likely require a fourth. Here are the injury details:
- After the crash, Bonano lost consciousness and woke up moments later lying in the street in intense pain, bleeding and with his right leg bones and fat protruding out from his skin.
- Transported by ambulance to the hospital where he was admitted for 12 days.
- Surgery #1 on 5/26/03: irrigation and debridement and placement of an external fixation device inserting screws into the tibia and a pin into the calcaneous.
- Surgery # 2 on 6/3/03 – to remove the external fixator and fix the fractures via open reduction and internal fixation (“ORIF”) with a four hole plate with screws in the tibia, a six hole plate with screws in the fibula, screw fixation of the talus and a bone graft.
- Surgery # 3 on 7/15/04 – to remove some of the inserted hardware.
- Post-traumatic arthritis in the joint space between the tibia and the talus, as well as the loosening of a screw in the talus resulting in a malunion, all of which caused significant permanent and progressive pain, limitation of motion and an antalgic gait (a limp).
- Unable to walk without pain or limping for more than three blocks or play sports (either alone or with his young children).
- Fourth Surgery required – a triple arthrodesis to fuse the arthritic ankle joints (the defendant’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that plaintiff’s fourth surgery might have to be a “more significant” ankle replacement procedure in which a prosthetic device is placed into the ankle).
- By the time of trial, plaintiff was 27 years old had moved to Pennsylvania and was attending a small college studying criminal justice.
- The testimony of the three police officers involved was inconsistent as to who was seated where, how many were actually inside the police car and where plaintiff was when he was first seen by the officers. Plaintiff’s counsel attacked their credibility, apparently successfully.
- Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $450,000 against an offer of $325,000.
- Defense counsel told the jurors that if they reached the damages issue, plaintiff’s “story” about his injuries did not make sense in part because he hadn’t sought any treatment for his injuries in the prior eight years, his limping was “selective” and he has the ability to drive, go to movies with his kids and throw a ball around with them.
- Defense counsel stated in her closing that plaintiff’s counsel “might ask you for [as much as] $50,000.” In fact, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jurors for pain and suffering damages in the sum of $4,000,000.