Monday, November 22, 2021

Rainbow demonstration victim has lawsuit award cut by appeal

An old story for this blog but Alonzo Yanes, a high school student burned in one of the worst stories of the Rainbow Experiment, had the lawsuit award reduced on appeal (via the New York Post): 

An appeals court Thursday cut in half the $60 million jury award for a Beacon High School student who was horribly burned in a since-banned chemistry experiment gone awry — still making it the largest payout in New York.

Alonzo Yanes was awarded the massive sum in 2019 after jurors heard about his horrific experience getting third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body at age 16 after a chemistry teacher was demonstrating the “Rainbow Experiment” — which uses highly flammable methanol to light various salts to produce different-colored flames.

The Appellate Division, First Department Thursday acknowledged that the excruciating burns, recovery, and the struggles ahead for Yanes, as he must live out the rest of his life with disfiguring scars, but still found the jury’s award “excessive.”

The decision laid out that the verdict should be reduced to $12 million for past pain and suffering and another $17 million for the future.

Even after it's been cut back, it's still a very large award, and one that has seemingly caused New York City public schools to not perform this demonstration anymore. I hope schools around the country either stop doing the rainbow demonstration, or institute the simplest best practices, including removing bulk containers of methanol from the room during the actual demonstration. 

I hope that the award will bring Mr. Yanes a tiny amount of peace. Best wishes to him, and the other victims from the Beacon School incident. 


  1. Rewards for pain and suffering need to be made more consistent in the US, as they vary over many orders of magnitude for similar situations. A good reference point is the statistical value of a human life, which for Americans is ~$10 million. This calculation is most often based on how much of a risk premium employers have to offer in order to attract workers to dangerous jobs. Starting with that reference, one can then ask "how much is the victim's quality of future life diminished by this event, as a percent of the expected whole?". While people might disagree on the precise percentage, it will have a standard deviation more like 10% than orders of magnitude. In this case, I'd say something like a third is reasonable, so let's call it $3.33m. That's an insane amount of money, enough that the student need never work.

    1. It's not just jury awards in personal injury cases; pretty much anything the legal system does is random. Beat someone up in a bar fight, and you could be looking at anywhere from a disorderly conduct ticket to several years in prison depending on whether the moon is in the house of Jupiter.


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