This is a really heart-breaking and disturbing case. It is a story about a young boy, 16, who is horrifically injured in when a science class experiment goes horribly wrong. The actual case can, as always, be accessed through the link at the end. I do not recommend reading it if you are sensitive because the facts are very graphic and they will give you nightmares. But the case is, nevertheless, important. So, let’s get this done – Yanes v. City of New York - here is the case.
Anna Poole, was an untenured science teacher at Beacon High School, in Manhattan, who was conducting a chemistry experiment that was considered dangerous and could result in injuries. Safeguards were not used -- The result was disastrous as Anna’s inexperience resulted in an explosion of fire that disfigured one of her students, Alonzo Yanes.
Testimony Of Anna Poole - The Science Teacher
Q: What type of experiment were you performing on the day in question?
A: It is called the "rainbow experiment." It involves burning chemicals in Petri dishes to create multicolored flames.
Q: And what did you do just before the explosion?
A: I poured methanol from a one-gallon bottle into hot lab dishes containing nitrates that had been on fire only moments earlier.
Q: Did you perform the experiment correctly?
A: I did. Yes.
Q: Were you wearing safety goggles?
Q: Were your students wearing safety goggles?
Q: Did you offer the goggles to the students that were closest to the experiment?
A: I don’t remember.
Testimony Of Henry - School Janitor
Q: Were you watching the experiment being performed?
A: Yes, I had been passing by the classroom and I saw something dangerous happening?
Q: What do you mean?
A: The teacher had these glass dishes with liquid and flames coming out of them. Teacher had on protective gear, but there were kids who were close that had no protection at all.
Q: What did you see next?
A: Teacher was going to pour what I thought was water into the dishes. But, the liquid burst into flames, creating this like blazing ribbon of fire that whipped through the classroom. But the ribbon found one of the students, Alonzo, and just swallowed him up; like, on purpose. Like it knew.
Q: And what did you see?
A: Alonzo was just smoldering – he looked like a victim from a battlefield. I’ll never forget it, man. It was worse than war.
Q: Did you serve?
A: Yes, I did -- Desert Storm – Decorated.
Q: No further questions.
Testimony Of Alonzo - The Injured Student
Q: Alonzo, tell the jury what you remember.
A: There was a giant fireball and I was engulfed in flames. All I remember hearing was a hissing, sizzling sound and me yelling -- I believe that the hissing was my skin starting to char up.
Q: What happened next, Alonzo?
A: I was just laying there with Anna Poole waiting for medics to arrive.
Q: What was Anna doing?
A: She was beside me, crying. She said “I'm sorry Alonzo, I'm very sorry.” She choked up on her words and she sounded kind of hoarse. ... I said 'It's OK' but she said, “no it's not. " But now she’s not sorry – I don’t get it. Now I look like this. And she’s not sorry? Wow.
Testimony Of Alonzo's Doctor
Q: Doctor, what injuries did Alonzo sustain?
A: He suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face, neck and torso. Alonzo was put in a medically induced coma for three days and required five surgeries.
Q: And the injuries and treatment – did they cause Alonzo to experience pain.
A: Unimaginable physical pain – worse emotional pain because of the disfigurements.
Q: What was Alonzo’s condition upon arrival at the hospital?
Photographs Of The Injured Boy
Alonzo’s Lawyer: Your Honor, at this time we are going to ask that these photographs of the boy’s injuries be admitted into evidence and published to the jurors.
School’s Lawyer: Your Honor, with my deepest sympathies and all respect to the boy and his family, these photographs are highly inflammatory and prejudicial because of the sympathy that will be generated. It is unfair and they will cause the jury to decide this case with their emotions rather than with reason. They should not have to view these pictures. They will become victims, too. I object.
Inflammatory? Counsel, these photographs depict the boy exactly how he was. This is what happened to him and the jury should be able to actually see for themselves what happened to him. Words alone are not enough. The photos will be admitted and the jury will view them. They can determine how long they would like to view them Objection OVERRULED.
[The jury did get to see the photos and the reaction was dramatic – gasps and tears.]
The Jury's Verdict
We, the Jury, find the Defendants LIABLE for the injuries sustained by Alonzo.
We award Alonzo a total of $60 Million Dollars.
After The Verdict
The Defendants filed a motion arguing that the award was excessive. The Trial Judge DENIED that motion noting, Alonzo “was literally burned alive.” The award was upheld.
Alonzo gets $60 Million.
Was Anna Poole fired?
Negative! She was instead promoted to become an instructional specialist at the DOE. She has been promoted to become DOE instructional Supervisor to help teachers prepare science lessons, complete with a $25,000 raise.
This was a tragic incident and the experiment has been banned in our schools.Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci
A victory for Alonzo – but at a terrible and sad cost.
Here is the case (WARNING: SPREAD ONLY IF YOU MUST):