Here’s the facts of the case. The plaintiff was 16 years old when a chemistry demonstration in his high school class went horribly awry. He was set on fire, and suffered catastrophic physical injuries including 3rd degree burns over 31% of his body. The burns were on his face, ears, neck, arms, and hands. He never lost consciousness, at least not until the hospital induced a coma for three days. As one might imagine, there were psychological consequences as well. He had to undergo skin grafts and contracted a MRSA infection while in the hospital. He also required extensive plastic surgery.
The plaintiff, Alonzo Yanes, was originally awarded $29,585,000 for past pain and suffering and $29,585,000 for future pain and suffering over 54 years, plus 9% interest for future pain and suffering. The appeals court reduced the award to $12,000,000 for past pain and suffering and $17,000,000 for future pain and suffering. These still represent the largest pain and suffering awards ever awarded in New York, 50% higher than the next highest award.
This award was not just the result of an accident having taken place. As with any personal injury case, negligence was involved. Anna Poole, the teacher, failed to take the appropriate safety precautions. Students were not kept at a safe distance from the demonstration table, no student was wearing goggles, and there was no fire blanket or safety shower in the classroom. The failure to provide a fire blanket or safety shower and the failure to properly train the teacher meant the New York City Board of Education was also held liable for the student’s injuries.
One thing we try to drive home to those who are suspicious of personal injury cases is that our clients suffer immense physical and emotional harm. They aren’t getting rich at someone else’s expense. Often these accidents completely derail their futures: their career, romantic, and social prospects are brought to a screeching halt. For example, Mr. Yanes’ face was literally burned away, and any time he goes out in public he has to deal with the emotional pain of being gawked at and potentially ridiculed. These awards help ensure that people like Alonzo can live a life at all after the destruction caused by someone else’s negligence.