On January 2, 2014, a teacher at a high school in Manhattan performed a demonstration for a tenth-grade chemistry class intending to show her students how various nitrates, when lit, caused flames to appear in different colors. The demonstration – known as “The Rainbow Experiment” – went horribly awry when a giant fireball erupted and engulfed one of the students, 16-year-old Alonzo Yanes.

In the ensuing lawsuit against the teacher and the city’s board of education, the jury determined that the defendants were negligent, and they awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $59,170,000 ($29,585,000 past – five and a half years, $29,585,000 future – 54 years).

In Yanes v. City of New York (1st Dept. 2021), the award was reduced to $29,000,000 ($12,000,000 past, $17,000,000 future), an amount that represents the largest pain and suffering award ever approved by an appellate court in New York.

Here are some of the injury details:

  • third degree burns to 31% of body – mainly face, ears, neck, arms and hands
  • degloving injuries to hands and corneal abrasion to eye
  • emergency coma induction for three days and intravenous administration of 38 pounds of fluids
  • two-month hospitalization with twice a day agonizing surgical debridement procedures in hydrotherapy unit; followed by three-month admission to another hospital
  • treatment of neck and face burns with cadaver grafts with thousands of staples
  • replacement of cadaver grafts with skin grafts from plaintiff’s scalp and legs, causing a total of more than 50% of his body to be subjected to the equivalent of second- and third-degree burns
  • permanent, painful and disfiguring and contracting scars with ears destroyed and face left unrecognizable

Inside Information:

  • Plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement demand was $50,000,000 against an offer of $10,000,000.
  • In his summation, plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award $70,000,000 for past pain and suffering damages; he did not suggest a figure for future damages. Defense counsel argued there was no negligence but that if the jury disagreed then he suggested they award $5,000,000 for pain and suffering damages.
  • Defendants did not challenge the liability finding in their appeal briefs.