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Ben Rubinowitz: NYC loses bid to reduce $60M payout to burned Beacon High School student

NY Post, By Priscilla DeGregory - August 10, 2020 


The city lost its attempt to avoid paying the $60 million verdict that was awarded to a Beacon High School student who was badly burned in a since-banned chemistry experiment gone awry, a judge ruled Monday.

Alonzo Yanes was awarded the stunning sum by a jury on July 1, 2019 following a trial that detailed how Yanes, then 16, suffered horrific and disfiguring burns on Jan. 2, 2014, after his chemistry teacher, Anna Poole, conducted a “Rainbow Experiment” that erupted in a fireball.

The trial also laid out the harrowing physical and emotional recovery that the teen went through in the months and years following the incident.

“All of this excruciating physical and emotional trauma experienced by Mr. Yanes has essentially stopped his young life before it even began,” Manhattan Supreme Supreme Court Justice Alexander Tisch wrote in a decision upholding the jury’s verdict.

The city last August filed a motion seeking to toss out or renegotiate the hefty verdict claiming that Yanes wasn’t nearly as disfigured as other accident victims in New York cases who have received smaller payouts.

Tisch said the verdict — which awarded for past and future pain and suffering — is appropriate as “Mr. Yanes was subjected to literally being burned alive.”

Yanes, now 22, spent painful months recovering in hospitals including undergoing skin grafting to his face, neck, arms and hands and losing his ears, according to trial testimony. He has disfiguring scars on his face and body and has lost the ability to sweat and feel in the burned areas, a doctor testified.

“Having miraculously survived being severely burned and the related trauma of the accident, Mr. Yanes became acquainted with the agonizing pain and suffering he would have to endure daily,” Tisch wrote of Yanes’ recovery.

And as for his future, the judge wrote, “While Mr. Yanes is supposed to be entering the prime of his life, he has been unable to establish a romantic relationship and has never even experienced his first kiss or had a single sexual encounter.”

Tisch said there is no sign that these emotional consequences “will somehow lessen over the remainder of his life.”

The physical and emotional impact of the accident will continue to affect Yanes’ job prospects, his future relationships, his self-confidence, his independence from his parents and his friendships throughout his life, Tisch said.

The jury “awarded a sizable, but fair monetary award for the substantial injuries … that Mr. Yanes has endured and is statistically likely to continue to endure for an additional 54 years post-verdict,” the decision read referring to Yanes’ predicted life expectancy.

Yanes’ lawyer Ben Rubinowitz told The Post he and his clients are “very pleased” with the decision.

“This young child suffered horrific injuries through the negligence of the Board of Education and a teacher who failed to provide protection for the students,” Rubinowitz said. “Although the award offers some measure of damages I know that my client would return it in a heartbeat if he could have his health back.”

The DOE deferred comment to the city Law Department.

Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said, “This was a tragic incident and the experiment has been banned in our schools.

“While we respect the court’s ruling, we believe the award is not consistent with the awards that have been upheld by the courts in similar cases.”

Paolucci said the city is “reviewing the city’s legal options” when asked if there would be an appeal.

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Alonzo Yanes during trial. Photo by Stevewn Hirsch.
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