This week, in an unusual decision, New York State Supreme Court Justice Alexander Tisch upheld a jury verdict for $60 million. Our partners New York personal injury attorneys Ben Rubinowitz and Richard Steigman tried the case before Justice Tisch last July. See Prior Blog. This is one of the largest awards for pain and suffering ever affirmed by a trial court in New York State.
The case was one that sparked national attention. A 10th grade student, Alonzo Yanes, was severely burned in his 10th grade chemistry class due to the negligence of his teacher Anna Poole and the New York City Board of Education. The teacher, who had been performing the “rainbow experiment,” failed to take necessary safety precautions to protect the students in her class. In the experiment the teacher was using methanol, a highly flammable substance, and failed to ensure that the students were kept at a safe distance from the demonstration table, failed to provide goggles to the students, failed to ensure there was a fire blanket was in the classroom and conducted the experiment in a classroom which did not have proper ventilation or showers.
Alonzo was burned alive. As the teacher poured the methanol from a gallon jug into a beaker a large fireball erupted and coated this young student with millions of droplets of burning methanol. Alonzo was screaming in agony — but because there was no protective equipment in the classroom and no shower or fire blanket he kept burning while a teacher from another classroom finally entered the classroom with a fire blanket to smother the flames.
Alonzo was immediately taken to the new York Hospital Cornell burn unit where he was found to be in critical condition upon arrival. Due to the severity of the burns, which were so severe that he lost his face and ears, he was was placed in a medically induced coma during which time he was administered more than 35 pounds of fluid just to keep him alive. During the three month hospitalization Alonzo underwent more than 120 medical procedures for the debridement of dead skin, skin grafts from cadavers and had his own healthy skin removed to replace the temporary skin grafts. Alonzo had become unrecognizable to his own family members due to the severity of his injuries. More than 30% of his body suffered third-degree burns.
In a 38 page decision (see link at bottom) Justice Alexander Tisch detailed the severity of the injuries suffered by Alonzo Yanes. Justice Tisch carefully and meticulously dissected the trial record explaining his thought process behind his decision to uphold the jury‘s award. Justice Tisch made clear that the jury award did not “materially deviate“ from what would be reasonable compensation under the circumstances.
According to Ben Rubinowitz, the trial lawyer for Alonzo, this award is “reasonable when considered in light of the harm suffered by Alonzo through no fault of his own. Alonzo will never escape the severity of the injuries he suffered due to the carelessness and negligence of a teacher and the New York City Board of Education. Unfortunately, people gawk at Alonzo on a daily basis and will for the rest of his life. His face was burned off. His ears were melted off. He no longer has the ability to sweat because his sweat glands were burned away. There isn’t a day that goes by when Alonzo doesn’t wonder what he would have looked like had the teacher just taken proper precautions in that high school classroom.”
The case will now move forward to appeal. It is fully expected that the City of New York will appeal this decision in its continuing efforts to reduce the jury’s award. According to Rubinowitz, the City refuses to recognize the severity of the injuries suffered by this young man — injuries that he suffered through no fault of his own. That refusal has, to date, denied justice to this young man. Rubinowitz explained that he was grateful that Justice Tisch took the time to write such an important and well thought out decision.
A copy of the decision can be found here