NEW YORK –New York’s top court recently upheld the largest affirmed pain and suffering jury verdict in state history: $16 million.
Kostantinos Mallas of Georgaklis & Mallas PLLC tried the case for which Steven Bournazos and Dennis Matarangas were the attorneys of record.
According to a Georgaklis & Mallas press release “On July 1, 2003, the plaintiff, Christopher Peat, was refinishing a floor in an apartment in the Fordham Hill complex. While applying lacquer on the floor, the pilot light on the kitchen stove ignited the lacquer and engulfed Mr. Peat in flames for over 6½ minutes.” The jury held the complex responsible for the gas not being shut off.
Peat suffered second- and third-degree burns on over 50 percent of his body and underwent more than 15 surgeries.
Mallas told TNH much credit is also due to Bournazos and Matarangas, who fought for Peat from early 2004 and in 2011 asked him to try the case which went to trial in June of that year. “Some of the biggest firms in the state rejected the case, but they had the foresight to see there was more to it.”
And they believed in Peat, whose dreams remain modest after the victory. “He’s not married. He wants a family, but he is happy he can get up and get a glass of water and put his hands out and shake somebody else’s.” He spent six months in a rehab facility re-learning to do things other people don’t give a second thought to.
Mallas worked for one large and one small firm after earning BA and law degrees at St. John’s University, before opening the firm with George Georgaklis.
“I was never a good student, but I loved litigation,” and said his mentor introduced him to personal injury law. “And I liked that you had the ability to help people.”
TORT REFORM MYTHS
Regarding the contentious issue of tort reform, Mallas fights what he calls misconceptions right off the bat. He told TNH tort reform – in the form of caps on pain and suffering awards as a means of getting insurance companies to lower their rates – has never worked as advertised.
“If the tort reformers had their way Mr. Peat, who was on fire for at least six minutes, would get only $250,000,” he said. He emphasized that large payouts are rare, always involving horrific injuries and that studies by independent groups show “There is no correlation between rises in insurance rates and large pain and suffering awards.”
Mallas said caps do not address the other target, eliminating frivolous cases. “What they really what to do is take the cases out of the hands of the jury….which is simply not right.”
He also emphasized that large jury awards in cases like malpractice suits have effected positive change, elevating standards of medical care.
Contrary to popular opinion, he explained that malpractice is difficult to prove. A bad result is not malpractice.
While part of the problem is that the medical professional does not properly monitor its members, he noted that doctors and lawyers have a common adversary in the insurance industry,” which he said is not properly regulated.
There are safety valves. Judges “can reduce awards to any level they feel is reasonable,” and appeals can be made to higher courts.
Mallas and his sister Stamatia was raised in Brooklyn by their parents, Dimitri and Eugenia, from Chios. He and his wife, Maria, have four children ranging from seven to 11 years of age: Evgenia, Dimitri, Marco, and Andreas.
An interview with Bournazos and Matarangos will follow.