NEW YORK – When attorneys try to obtain justice for burn victims and personal injury cases in general, they will now cite the work of Steven Bournazos and Dennis Matarangas that led to the highest sustained pain and suffering award in New York history – $24.5 million.
Their client, Christopher Peat, was severely burned in a Bronx apartment fire on July 1, 2003. On May 13, 2014 the Court of Appeals upheld the June 2011 jury award.
The two attorneys, who created their firm in 1997, are products and leaders of the community.
Matarangas was born and raised in Astoria, where his Kefalonian parents were heavily involved in the St. Demetrios church. He now coaches the successful sports teams of Archangel Michael in Port Washington.
Bournazos, a Fordham graduate whose parents are from Chios and Karpenisi, grew up in Fresh Meadows and he coaches his local baseball teams.
Other than the baseball teams they root for, they were a perfect match and began to receive referrals from the community immediately. Within a year they won $3 million for a Greek man injured in a heavy machinery accident.
“Our firm is unique. With my engineering degree,” – he studied at Cooper Union before going to law school – “and Steve’s accounting degree, we are able understand the intricacies in big labor law cases,” Matarangas said.
They also mix a Greek passion for justice into their work. Bournazos told TNH “We never sell a case short. We put 100 percent effort, however long it takes, we are there for the duration.”
Matarangas noted that personal injury lawyers not always well-appreciated.” We help people because we make the workplace safer. Lawsuits like Mr. Peat’s will make contractors and landlords more wary of the safety of the workers.”
Bournazos brought the case into the office as a result of a conversation with a client. Her case did not produce a large award, but he helped her by reducing his fees. In appreciation, she told him about what she said was a big case.
Peat told them many attorneys turned down the case because they thought he was negligent, but Bournazos and Matarangas saw it differently.
“We took the time to investigate…That’s what we do. We actually have attorneys sit down with clients and take the time to examine a case,” he said. Other firms have non-attorneys who screen cases who are likely to miss important information.
Matarangas added, “We are hands-on.” He took more than 12 depositions for Peat, discovering critical facts others missed. Both wrote the briefs which Bournazos argued in court fighting two summary judgment motions to dismiss the case.
Believing in their client, they invested $140,000 of their own. The Peat case had a 1/3 contingency, but they would have gotten nothing had they lost.
“We did not spare any expense…we hired the best experts, best doctors and economists to testify” Matarangas said. Attorney Kostantinos Mallas was hired in 2011 for the trial.
Their fire expert recreated in court what happened to Peat. “This man ran down 17 flights of stairs on fire,” Bournazos said.
They demonstrated that Peat’s injuries were twice as bad as those in the previous highest award, and that he was not able to work and enjoy life afterwards.
“We tracked down his doctor in Florida, who produced a case study which included photos of the injuries and surgeries. They were able to convey to the jury the excruciating pain Peat went through…the man had no skin on his body…the testimony was that the skin was melting off of his body,” said Bournazos.
Their opponents tried to wear them out but they would not back down and accept less than what they felt was just.
Bournazos said, “We have a reputation with the insurance companies that we will not give away our case” for a quick payout.
“Mr. Peat had faith in me and Dennis and believed in Bournazos & Matarangas Law PLLC. At the end of the case Mr. Peat told us ‘you are not just my attorneys but you are my family.’”
“With this award he will never be cured of his injuries, but at least he will be able to get the medical treatment he needs and be as comfortable as possible for the rest of his life,” said Mr. Bournazos.
They have offices in Manhattan and Garden City and are planning to open one in Astoria to be closer to the community.