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Young man engulfed in flames by school chemistry experiment wins nearly $60M

NBC News logo NBC News 7/2/2019 Janelle Griffith

A former New York City high school student who was disfigured when a 2014 chemistry experiment went awry was awarded nearly $60 million on Monday.

A Manhattan jury delivered a more than $59 million verdict, half to compensate Alonzo Yanes for past pain and suffering, and half for future pain and suffering based on a 54-year life expectancy. Yanes was engulfed in flames after a botched chemistry experiment.

He is still coping with the damage left by burns over more than 30 percent of his body.

The jury found the city’s Department of Education and his former teacher liable for the accident.

Yanes, now 21, was 16 when a fireball erupted from an experiment conducted by his teacher, Anna Poole, at Beacon High School (pictured) in January 2014. Other students also suffered first-degree burns.

Poole conducted the experiment, known as the Rainbow, at the prestigious Manhattan school with a gallon jug of methanol. She intended to show how salts change color when exposed to methanol.

a street with cars parked on the side of a building: Image: Beacon High School in Manhattan, New York. © Google Maps Image: Beacon High School in Manhattan, New York.

Yanes' attorney, Ben Rubinowitz, who asked for $70 million in damages, said his client was hospitalized for five months after the accident. He spent two of those months in a burn unit undergoing painful skin-graft surgeries.

Yanes suffered injuries that damaged his face, neck, arms and hands.

“He can look forward to more pain and suffering for the remainder of his life,” Rubinowitz told NBC News in a phone interview Tuesday. “So it’s a very sad situation all around.”

Rubinowitz told NBC News it was "an unfortunate event" and that he does not believe Poole acted intentionally but rather carelessly.

Yanes is studying animation at the School of Visual Arts, his attorney said.

“One of the things he hopes for in the future is that people judge him for who he is, not how he looks,” Rubinowitz said. “He knows the prejudice that comes with the disfiguring scars he has.”

Rubinowitz said he hopes the verdict sends a message.

"Alonzo and his family want to make sure that no other child is injured this way and teachers take the time to do a hazard-risk analysis," Rubinowitz said.


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