Nearly $60 Million in Damages Awarded to Former Student After Failed Chemistry Experiment Goes Horribly Wrong

On Monday, a jury ruled in favor of a former New York City high school student who was severely burned when a high school chemistry class experiment went horribly wrong back in 2014.

He was awarded nearly $60 million in damages from the city. The verdict came after a four-week trial.

Now 21, Alonzo Yanes attended Beacon High School, a college-preparatory public school in Manhattan. Yanes sustained third-degree burns to more than 30 percent of his body after an explosion occurred during a sophomore chemistry class experiment which attempts to exemplify the color change that takes place when salt is exposed to methanol. Known as the rainbow demonstration, when Yanes attempted the experiment, it generated an explosion that caused a fire, the lawsuit states.

"I was flapping around on the ground, but nothing was helping me. I was still on fire," Yanes testified. "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."

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According to the lawsuit filed with the city, the experiment 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.

The injuries Yanes sustained required numerous operations, leaving him disfigured and with permanent scars. Yanes testified about the injuries, and the painful skin graft surgeries he endured afterward, telling 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."

According to his attorney Ben Rubinowitz, Yanes was awarded a total of $59,170,00. Of that amount, $29,585,000 was for past pain and suffering, including his surgeries, and another $29,585,000 for future rehabilitation.

"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," Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said in a statement. "While we respect the jury's verdict, we are exploring our legal options to reduce the award to an amount that is consistent with awards that have been upheld by the courts in similar cases."

Yanes' mother, Yvonne, also testified during the trial.

On seeing her son for the first time after the accident, she emotionally recalled: "Someone was coming out of the emergency room area, and the door was open, and I got to take a glimpse of what I thought was Alonzo, and I remember seeing this huge body, and it doesn't look human — it looked like an alien form that was moving and flailing around."

In his testimony, Yanes noted that he sometimes take off his glasses so that he doesn't have to witness the stares of strangers eyeing his scars.

He said, "I will never get used to that."