Jury awards $60M to former student burned in chemistry class

A New York City jury awarded a former college-preparatory high school student nearly $60 million for the devastating injuries he suffered during a chemistry class. According to the Huffington Post, his chemistry teacher and the Department of Education were found to be liable for the accidental explosion that immersed the 16-year-old in burning flames.

The student was enrolled in a chemistry class while he was a sophomore attending one of Manhattan’s elite public high schools. During a class, the course instructor prepared a lab demonstration to show the students how the “rainbow experiment” worked. This experiment generally involves using separate dishes filled with different types of mineral salts and a lit flame. Methanol, which is a highly flammable liquid, is then poured on each mixture to show how each of the different salts turns into a colorful flame, much like a rainbow.

Allegedly, the teacher used a gallon jug to pour the methanol onto the salts when it may have been safer for her to use a smaller container. A fireball burst out and latched onto the student who testified how he felt like his body was burning as though he were in a frying pan. The victim spent five months in the hospital where he endured numerous skin graft surgeries to heal the injuries that covered his arms, hands and neck. The jury’s $60 million award included compensation for his pain and suffering, financial relief for his surgeries and funding for future rehabilitation treatments.

Accidental explosions and fires should be considered as foreseeable. Teachers owe a duty of care to their students when performing instructional experiments with flammable or combustible materials in a lab. To help prevent school lab injuries, the United Federation of Teachers union makes available a compilation of lab safety rules that students could follow.

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