A jury ruled in favor of a former Manhattan high school student who was severely burned when a chemistry class experiment went horrifically wrong in 2014, ultimately awarding him more than $59 million in damages from the city Monday.
Alonzo Yanes, now 21, was awarded a total of $59,170,000, according to his attorney Ben Rubinowitz.
According to Rubinowitz, a jury awarded Yanes $29,585,000 for past pain and suffering — and the same for future pain and suffering extending 54 years based on Yanes’ life expectancy.
The verdict came after a four-week trial.
The lawsuit Yanes filed said the experiment, which involved mineral salts being set on fire and used methanol, was performed despite warnings sent to the city's education department from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that it was dangerous. The suit says the students were not adequately protected.
Rubinowitz told News 4 New York his firm claimed at trial that there was negligence by the Department of Education and the teacher before, during and after the incident had taken place.
A lawyer for the defense told jurors in opening statements that the fire was an accident.
In a statement, Nick Paolucci, spokesman for the New York City Law Department, 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, testifying about injuries that damaged his face, neck, arms and hands and the painful skin graft surgeries he endured afterward, told jurors he remembered "feeling the fire eat away at my skin and eat away at my flesh, and it was charring me the way a piece of meat chars in a frying pan."
Yanes testified that when a giant fireball flared, he put his arms out in an instinctive attempt to protect himself from the flames coming in his direction.
He said he dropped to the ground in an effort to put out the flames engulfing his upper body, to no avail.
"I was flapping around on the ground, but nothing was helping me. I was still on fire," said Yanes, who suffered third-degree burns to more than 30% of his body.
"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," he said.
His mother and father also testified.