On bottom left, Sean J. Greene of Steinger, Iscoe & Greene; on top left Alfred “Jib” Bell of Steinger, Iscoe & Greene; on bottom right, plaintiff Peter Bonacci; and on top right, Tim Vannatta of Steinger, Iscoe & Greene. ()
The metadata on accident-scene photographs and an ambulance report helped Steinger Iscoe & Greene attorneys Alfred Bell Jr., Timothy Vannatta and Sean Greene piece together an argument that won more than $1 million for a client who tripped over a garden hose.
And they could receive another $1.5 million after the trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to determine entitlement to attorney fees.
The case hinged on the smallest details — descriptive data that showed several properties of electronic files, including the creation date and time of several photographs used to bolster the plaintiff’s claims. It turned on the attorneys’ ability to prove their client’s contention that a maintenance company’s negligence caused a fall that created years of hardship.
The photos — and their time stamps — helped jurors see the accident scene for themselves with opposing counsel pointing fingers at each other and presenting differing accounts of what happened on the day of the accident.
In the end, the jury sided with the plaintiff, assigning full blame for the accident to the defendant.
“It’s very unusual in a slip-and-fall like this to find the plaintiff not responsible for any part of it,” Greene said. “We were able to recreate the entire scene … punching holes in any arguments that they made.”
Steinger Iscoe represented Peter Bonacci, who was 55 when he injured his wrists, knees and spine in a March 2015 fall in front of his Jupiter condominium building.
Bonacci was walking outside his home when he fell forward and landed on both knees. He attempted to break the fall with his hands but instead crashed into the pavement, spraining his wrist and snapping his neck. He required surgery on his right knee and a three-level cervical fusion to repair his damaged spine.
Bonacci claimed defendant Fresh Start BSC Inc. was doing maintenance work for the condo association but failed to alert residents of the potential hazard it created by running a hose camouflaged by a shaded portico and dark pavement.
Fresh Start, on the other hand, insisted it used signs and cones to identify the work area. It blamed the fall on Bonacci’s negligence and argued his surgeries were the result of a pre-existing condition from 2003 when he fell at a shopping center.
Faced with opposing accounts, the jury relied on Bonacci’s evidence — he took photographs about one minute before an ambulance arrived on the scene.
The images captured a Fresh Start employee picking up the hose after the accident but documented no indication the work crew placed cones or took any other precautionary measures before the fall.
“What that photo shows you is that there are no signs or warnings,” Greene said. “That’s how we pieced the case together. This photo is the smoking gun.”
The Steinger Iscoe attorneys argued liability was clear. They told jurors Bonacci would require significant medical care on an ongoing basis plus compensation for his pain and suffering.
After a seven-day trial before Palm Beach Circuit Judge Edward L. Artau, the jury awarded Bonacci $1 million on Aug. 8. It awarded more than $264,510 for past medical expenses, $146,155 for future medical bills and $300,000 each for past and future pain and suffering.
More good news for the plaintiff: Artau issued a Sept. 27 order granting Bonacci’s motion to determine entitlement to attorney fees.
Defense attorneys were Robert Phillips and Marsha Bunn of the Law Offices of J. Christopher Norris in Boca Raton. They had no comment by deadline.
Peter Bonacci v. Fresh Start BSC
Case No.: 2015-CA-006155
Description: Premises liability
Filing date: June 1, 2015
Verdict date: Aug. 8, 2017
Judge: Palm Beach Circuit Judge Edward L. Artau
Plaintiffs attorneys: Sean J. Greene, Alfred R. Bell Jr. and R. Timothy Vannatta, Steinger Iscoe & Greene, Fort Lauderdale
Defense attorneys: Robert Phillips and Marsha Bunn, Law Office of J. Christopher Norris, Boca Raton
Verdict amount: $1 million