A former high school student in New York City has been awarded nearly $60 million in damages after a jury found the the school system and the student's former teacher liable for a 2014 accident that left much of his body scarred from third-degree burns.
The New York Times reports that in January 2014, Alonzo Yanes was a sophomore at Beacon High School in Manhattan. He was engulfed in flames after a chemistry experiment went awry.
It was one of the most gruesome accidents in a city school in recent years: a large fireball exploded when an experienced science teacher, Anna Poole, conducted an experiment intended to show how salts change color when exposed to methanol.
Students immediately jumped under their desks and called for help after the fire began, but Yanes and another student were caught in the flames.
The other student suffered first-degree burns.
Yanes was left with burns so deep that his sweat glands were numbed, and he is no longer able to sweat through some of parts of his body. He spent five months in hospitals after the accident, including two months in a burn unit undergoing extensive skin graft surgeries.
A federal agency had warned about the potential dangers of the experiment, known as the Rainbow, just weeks before the incident. The same experiment has caused at least two other accidents across the nation in the last 15 years.
“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,” Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. “While we respect the jury’s verdict, we are exploring our legal options to reduce the award to an amount that is consistent with awards that have been upheld by the courts in similar cases.”
The city law department had argued that Yanes should be awarded no more than $5 million for past damages.
The jury granted $29 million in damages for past pain and suffering, and another $29 million for rehabilitation stretching 54 years into the future.
Yanes, now 21, studies animation at the School of Visual Arts, a college in Manhattan. During the trial, he testified that he sometimes takes off his glasses so he does not have to see strangers gawk at his scars.