A Bronx jury has awarded $25 million to a boy who was just 13 when he was struck by an NYPD school safety van in Brooklyn and suffered burns to his private parts.
On Nov. 12, 2014, Manuel Lassalle, now 17, was in the crosswalk on Coney Island Avenue near Ditmas Avenue in Midwood minutes after school was dismissed for the day.
An NYPD van, driven by former school safety agent Ameerah Bonaparte, suddenly plowed into Lassalle, pinning him underneath the vehicle and dragging him 98 feet, according to his lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein.
The boy was trapped under the van for four to five minutes as the engine and exhaust system scorched his penis, scrotum and left flank, his lawyer said.
A tow truck driver saw the accident and pulled over to help, Rubenstein said. Cellphone video of the aftermath shows EMS workers and firefighters lifting the van to extricate the young boy from under the car and placing him on a stretcher.
After the horrifying collision, Lassalle had to undergo three skin grafts to his genital area, according to his attorney.
“I winced!” Rubenstein said when he first met Lassalle. “Imagine being stuck under a car and your balls being burned.”
Lassalle, who is in his sophomore year at Brooklyn College, sustained permanent damage from the genital injury.
He also suffered road burns to his elbow and shoulder from being dragged along the asphalt and permanent scarring. He spent more than a month at Jacobi Hospital where he underwent three skin graft surgeries using skin harvested from his thighs.
“He was emotionally and psychologically scarred and will be for the remained of his life,” Rubenstein said. “Justice was done by this jury. They ‘did the right thing’ as Spike Lee would say.”
Lawyers for the city argued that Lassalle darted in front of the van on a “don’t cross” signal, and Bonaparte didn’t have enough warning to brake.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department, Nick Paolucci, said video collected by the NYPD and shown to jurors supported the city’s argument.
The jury determined that Bonaparte was 80 percent at fault for the accident while Lasalle was 20 percent responsible and reached their verdict Friday in Bronx Supreme Court.
“While this was a tragic incident, we believe this award is excessive and we are weighing our legal options to reduce it to an amount which reasonably compensates Mr. Lassalle for his injuries,” said Paolucci in a statement.
Bonaparte, who now works for the city as a correction officer, didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
Just last April, a Bronx jury awarded $22 million to an ironworker who was horribly injured when he fell 13 feet while working on the Henry Hudson Bridge.
Additional reporting by Kevin Sheehan
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