$58M Judgment for NYC Chemistry Class Injuries

A jury in New York awarded $58 million to a former student injured by a dangerous chemistry class experiment in January 2014.

The New York City Dept. of Education and the Board of Education are defendants ordered to pay the sum. The city education department and board intend to appeal the judgment amount to levels more commonly awarded in similar cases.

Alonzo Yanes was a sophomore at New York’s Beacon High School when he attempted an experiment called the “rainbow demonstration.” The experiment involves combusting various chemicals and salt, which let off multi-colored smoke.

Instead of creating smoke, the experiment caused an explosion and fire. The mishap caused chemical burns to Yanes’ upper torso, neck and face. Yanes still receives autografts for his injuries and said he continues to endure pain and suffering. Yanes argued the city education department and board did not alert the school and its teachers about potential dangers involving the rainbow experiment. That caused Yanes to unknowingly face a high-risk of suffering injury, and he said the resulting explosion ensured his injuries would be severe and produce enduring pain.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in December 2013 warned about dangers involving the rainbow demonstration. At the time, the experiment was relatively common in high school chemistry classes. It uses a flammable solvent to create combustion and colorful smoke. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, though, warned the demonstration was “high-risk” when carried out on an open bench.

Yanes said his high school chemistry teacher completely controlled the demonstration and was responsible for his and other students’ safety. He now is disfigured and has permanent scarring.

Shortly after Yanes’ mishap, the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical safety recommended schools stop using the experiment. New York City schools no longer use the demonstration.

A jury awarded Yanes $29 million for pain and suffering. It also awarded $29 million to pay for future rehabilitation. That money will pay for plastic surgery, but Yanes said he suffered life-changing injuries and endures ongoing pain.

The New York City Dept. of Education and the Board of Education intend to seek a reduction in damage amounts. They say they want the amount reduced to those paid in judgments for similar accidents.