On Monday, a jury awarded $59+ million in damages to an ex-Manhattan high school student, Alonzo Yanes, who was suffered severe burns after a chemistry class experiment went wrong back in January 2014.
Yanes is now 21-years-old, and he is set to have that judgment paid out by the city of New York. His attorney, Ben Rubinowitz, said the exact awarded total is $59,170,000. That decision came after a four-week-long trial. Rubinowitz goes on to detail that half of that sum ($29,585,000) was for past pain and suffering, while the other half is for future pain and suffering.
On June 19, Yanes took the stand to recount the incident, which he says was caused by his teacher, and which happened at Beacon High School.
"She poured the methanol into a container, and then without any warning, there was a big whoosh sound — a giant fireball had erupted from the jug," he said. "I saw flashes of blue and orange. I heard my classmates go, ‘Whoa!’ and scream.
"I reflexively put my arms out … to kind of shield myself from the flames that were shooting out towards me."
He further stated that he attempted to stop, drop, and roll, but that that failed to deter the flames.
Rubinowitz explained to a local NBC affiliate that his firm had alleged negligence on the part of the Department of Education, as well as Yanes' teacher, before, during, and after the disaster occurred.
Nick Paolucci, the spokesman for the New York City Law Department, released a statement that said: “The well-being of students is the top priority of the Department of Education and this chemistry experiment is no longer used in any classroom as a result of this tragic accident. While we respect the jury’s verdict, we are weighing our legal options to reduce the award to an amount which reasonably compensates Mr. Yanes for his injuries.”
Yanes' lawsuit said the experiment that led to his burns used methanol and involved mineral salts being set alight. It was allegedly conducted even though the U.S. Chemical Safety Board sent warnings to the local education department saying that it was dangerous. The suit also claims that students weren't properly shielded, which would seem to be backed up by Yanes' injuries.
The defense countered by saying the fire was accidental.
Yanes ended up suffering third-degree burns to roughly one-third of his body. "I remember feeling the fire eat away at my skin and eat away at my flesh," he said. "And it was charring me the way a piece of meat chars in a frying pan.
"I held my breath for as long as I could. But nothing was working. I was hopelessly burning alive, and I couldn't put myself out, and the pain was so unbearable."