The Early Years
It all began 35 years ago with a beat-up manual typewriter, sitting on a rusty metal desk in the corner of a small room in a friend’s law office.
John Anthony Bonina couldn’t afford to give up his day job as a Claims Examiner for State Farm Insurance, so he pursued his dream at night, with second-hand furniture.
His dream, a law firm of his own that would help the little guy, got off to an inauspicious start. When the last exam ended at Villanova University, John Anthony Bonina knew it was time to return to New York and pursue his dream of becoming an attorney. He entered Brooklyn Law School and completed the three-year course in 2-1/2 years.
One very important part of his life at Villanova would be returning to New York with him... Barbara Bonina. The couple met at Villanova, and when John left for New York, she followed him, and continued her career in cancer research. They were married while he studied law and she worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
A Personal Vow
Growing up in a working class neighborhood of Brooklyn, John learned at an early age that bad things all too often happen to good people. He understood that when a person was severely injured, it had the effect of destroying a family.
John knew what workers meant when they said, "We need more than workers compensation, we need justice." With issues like this in mind, he founded the Committee for a Safe Place to Work, which has devoted itself to improving safety conditions in the workplace.
During his law school days, John saw first-hand how medical negligence could lead to a horrible, permanent injury. Someone that he loved had become blind from a wrong diagnosis. He vowed then and there to do everything he could to make life comfortable for patients who were seriously injured as a result of medical negligence.
Knowing that corporations and the medical establishment would be represented by the very best attorneys in New York, John developed an unusual strategy to do battle with them -- he went to work for insurance companies to learn how they defended themselves in such cases.
John began his training with State Farm, where he took special courses in Bloomington, Illinois, covering insurance policies and auto liability claims. He was also a trial attorney for Empire Mutual on a per diem basis in New York City's Civil Court.
As time went by, John Anthony Bonina was able to use the training he received at State Farm to sharpen and hone his skills as an investigator and attorney. And it was the thoroughness of his investigations that provided the evidence needed to win major victories in those early years.
He got his first break as a Civil Court Trial Lawyer when a major negligence firm wanted someone to act as their trial lawyer for a plaintiff who had driven a car on the wrong side of the road and had been involved in a head-on collision.
Occupants of both cars had sustained very serious injuries. No established Supreme Court trial lawyer would accept the case. John Anthony Bonina said, "I'll take a chance and represent her as a plaintiff."
When the jury found that the cause of the accident was the negligence of a passenger, and not the driver he had represented, the established firms began giving him Supreme Court cases for trial.
In time, he outgrew the cramped space he rented from a friend and opened a small office with other young attorneys. The manual typewriter was replaced with the newest office equipment. John Anthony Bonina's firm was one of the first to use electronic typewriters and word processors as they came to market.
This sophisticated equipment was necessary because the firm was taking on more complicated cases, fighting against larger corporations, represented by major law firms. Bonina branched out from strictly automobile negligence cases into other areas.
The $20,000 Phone Call
Around that same time, heart valves implanted by a world-famous Texas physician began to fail. These heart valves were manufactured by a California-based corporation, which had never lost a court proceeding.
When one of the heart valves failed and killed a Brooklyn Longshoreman (and another was about to fail in a Long Island housewife), John Anthony Bonina got involved.
Bonina's team started cross-country litigation, and before they were done, they tried many cases involving two different defective heart valves. Bonina himself was designated Plaintiffs National Lead Counsel for this complex litigation.
When the lawsuit was filed, the Eastern District of New York was selected as the place for the trial. The Trial Judge, however, was prepared to transfer the entire case to Texas unless the renowned physician was eliminated as a defendant.
In order to avoid this transfer, Bonina came to an agreement to discontinue the case against the physician, only if he agreed not to come to New York to testify for the defense at trial. The agreement was made, hands were shaken, and it was placed on the record.
When the defense began its portion of the trial, the court was informed that the Texas heart surgeon would not personally come to New York to testify, but he would testify on behalf of the defense by communications satellite on a long distance telephone call from the New York courtroom to the Texas hospital.
The Texas physician would meet the letter of the agreement by not personally coming to New York, but he would give testimony on behalf of the heart valve manufacturer, against his patients, on television sets via satellite.
When the physician appeared on camera, he was dressed in a pale blue surgical gown with his hospital as the backdrop. Newspaper reporters sat on every seat in the front row of the courtroom.
This was the first time that live testimony was brought into a courtroom by satellite -- with attorneys asking questions in New York, the witness providing answers in Texas, and a jury watching it all unfold live before their eyes.
The Daily News called it the $20,000 phone call.
And despite the theatrics, the jury called the heart valve manufacturer negligent -- and held them responsible to the plaintiffs for damages.
Soon after this dramatic victory, John Anthony Bonina became Plaintiffs National Lead Counsel in more complex litigation against the manufacturer of a different heart valve.
The Best of the Best
Bonina's clients grew in number, coming from all across the nation, as did the attorneys who expressed confidence in his ability to win the most difficult cases imaginable. That confidence was soon justified, as he won against the second heart valve manufacturer.
Over the years, John Anthony Bonina received many citations, commendations and awards from Congress, the New York State Senate, the Brooklyn Borough President's Office, and the New York State Trial Lawyer's Association.
He has shared his knowledge and experience with colleagues as a lecturer on dozens of occasions in matters of continuing legal education.
Big verdicts and prominent newspaper stories weren't the only reason that John Anthony Bonina gained the respect of his peers. It was also the positions he took.
When Becker vs. Schwartz made the front page of the New York Times and was recognized by the media as a leading case on the issue of wrongful birth, it was hailed across the nation as an important precedent for Women's Rights. Today, law students around the country study this case as part of their law school curriculum.
Similarly, Muallem vs. City gave children riding bicycles on sidewalks the right to sue the City for defective conditions, when it had previously been denied to them.
Martindale Hubbell, the national rating service for attorneys, has always given John Anthony Bonina its highest rating for skill and ethics. Recently, they devised a listing of the Best of the Best. The legal community's most highly regarded professionals are listed in the National Register of Preeminent Counsel. In all of Brooklyn, America's fourth-largest city, there is only one Civil Trial Practice law firm listed: Bonina & Bonina, P.C.