tampabay.com

Victim, lawyers give back

They team up for a $1-million donation to the Buoniconti Fund.

By SARAH MISHKIN
Published July 26, 2007


TAMPA - After handing over the $1-million donation Wednesday, the trial lawyers adjourned to the break room for sandwiches.

Allan Navarro and his family stayed in the front of the office, talking about coping with paralysis with the man who just became the beneficiary of Navarro and his attorneys' generosity.

Navarro, 51, is still learning to eat solid food after an emergency room misdiagnosis left him paralyzed.

With him Wednesday was Marc Buoniconti, president of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, a Miami-based research foundation.

Navarro's tragedy began in August 2000, when an ER doctor misdiagnosed a stroke. He ended up in a coma and, today, is totally paralyzed and cannot speak clearly. But he sued the doctors who worked in the emergency room and emerged victorious - a jury awarded him $217-million in punitive damages and pain and suffering.

He and his attorneys settled with the doctors, and the exact amount that the Navarros received remains confidential.

From the money received for his pain and suffering, Navarro and his lawyers decided to donate $1-million to researching cures for spinal cord injuries. His lawyers knew of the Buoniconti Fund, which works out of a research center based at the University of Miami, and they contacted the fund to offer their donation. The $1-million will go to fund a series of clinical trials run by the center.

Buoniconti and his family founded the firm after he was paralyzed after tackling an opponent while playing college football. He is the son of Nick Buoniconti, an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker for the Miami Dolphins.

"It's a great way to launder money, take bad money and make it good," said Steve Yerrid, Navarro's chief trial attorney. Navarro donated $600,000, and the two law firms that represented him, the Yerrid Law Firm and de la Parte & Gilbert, donated $200,000 each.

After Yerrid handed him the display check, Buoniconti spoke of the importance of optimism in the struggle to find a cure. He spoke directly to Allan, who once played pro basketball in the Philippines, looking toward the day when they both would be able to get up out of their wheelchairs.

"I'm going to challenge you to one-on-one basketball," he said. The Navarros are using some of their settlement money to build a handicapped accessible house in Land O'Lakes.

After the ceremony, Buoniconti sat with the Navarro family, giving them advice on traveling with a wheelchair.

Buoniconti gave them the name of a company that rents wheelchair-accessible vans, as Navarro's wife, Marilyn, stood with her arm around her husband's shoulders. Buoniconti asked a bystander to write down some Web addresses for the family. Susan, his sister, tucked the paper into her purse, and she and Marilyn leaned in toward Buoniconti, asking him more questions about what to bring while traveling on airplanes. Allan sat silently between them all, smiling slightly.

Sarah Mishkin can be reached at smishkin@sptimes.com or 813 225 3110.