Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Alonzo Yanes, Burned in His High School Chemistry Lab, Wins $29 Million Award For Past and Future Pain And Suffering.

Alonzo Yanes after the fire

The picture above of burned student Alonzo Yanes says it all. Anna Poole, who was a science teacher at his school, Beacon High School on Manhattan's West Side, did an experiment that she should never have done, and burned student Alonzo Yanes after the experiment went horribly wrong. Ms. Poole was punished by being given an administrative job at the NYC Department of Education. I am not making this up. I can't help but think about all the teachers I know who made a mistake that was silly and not as serious as that of Ms. Poole and were terminated at a 3020-a arbitration. Teacher tenure discipline and punishment are random and arbitrary in NYC.

Below is a re-posting of the story on this blog in 2020  with the update, namely that the Appellate Division First Department has awarded Mr. Yanes $29 million for past and future pain and suffering, the largest pain-and-suffering damages amount approved by an appellate court in state history, according to the NY Law Journal.

From the New York Law Journal, November 22, 2021

First Department Appeals Court Halves Jury's $60M Pain-and-Suffering Award—But It's Still a Record

Anna Poole

Alonzo Yanes, Burned at School, Keeps His $60 Million Award While Teacher Anna Poole Gets a Raise From the NYC DOE

NYC Rubber Room Reporter, August 21, 2020

Principal Lacey testified "she made a terrible mistake" and cried on the stand, but was ousted from Beacon in August 2020, basically for this incident and her alleged "racist" policies.

Ruth Lacey

‘Hypocritical’ Beacon principal squeezes rich parents while students rally against ‘privilege’

Some readers may say that I am a teacher advocate and therefore should support all teachers at all times.

I do not believe this. If I want to be believable in hearings or on my blog, (which I do),  I must dig into the facts of a story or case, and tell the reader those facts. If an educator is guilty of misconduct based upon a review of the facts, then I will say exactly that. I still argue for a punishment that is fair, based on the evidence, so I usually do not agree with a termination award and will fight to overturn any termination decision I think was not deserved.

In the case of Alonzo Yanes, I do believe that the NYC DOE should fire the teacher who caused such harm, Anna Poole. One of my reasons for feeling this way is that I know of so many cases where arbitrators have terminated good teachers for no reason or a low-grade accident or mistake that did not harm a child.

Alonzo Yanes and his parents

I just cannot accept the fact that Ms. Poole did such a stupid act and was rewarded, with her student suffering so much from his injuries. I know personally many teachers who allegedly made a far less serious "mistake", admitted to making a mistake or not doing what they are accused of, were charged with 3020-a and terminated.

More proof that the teacher disciplinary procedures and penalties must be changed and made more fair.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog

NYLJ, Jason Grant, November 22, 2021

A state appeals court has awarded $29 million—the largest pain-and-suffering damages amount approved by an appellate court in state history—to a former Manhattan public high school student burned over much of his body during a class experiment gone wrong, though the court did cut the jury verdict of $60 million roughly in half.

The Appellate Division, First Department awarded the $29 million in past and future pain and suffering to the plaintiff, referred to as A.Y. in the opinion, while only briefly addressing its decision to halve the trial-court award. And the panel did not address in detail how it arrived at the $29 million total.

The unanimous panel of five justices used most of the opinion to detail the “catastrophic physical injuries, with psychological and emotional sequelae” suffered by the plaintiff, who has been identified in multiple news reports as Alonzo Yanes, at the time of the chemistry class accident in 2014 and in the years since. Yanes was 16 when, in a chemistry class at Manhattan’s Beacon High School, a teacher conducting an experiment “poured methanol from a gallon jug” into dishes containing nitrates, and “a giant fireball erupted … and engulfed” Yanes, and he burned for at least a minute, according to an earlier decision in the litigation by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Tisch, who cited witness accounts.

After detailing the pain and suffering Yanes has experienced, the First Department panel wrote simply that “under the circumstances of this case, we find the jury’s awards for past pain and suffering (5.5 years) and future pain and suffering (54 years) excessive only to the extent indicated,” citing Peat v. Fordham Hill Owners.

Earlier in the opinion, the panel had laid out “the extent indicated,” writing that a jury in 2020 had awarded “A.Y.” the “principal sums of $29,585,000 million for past pain and suffering and $29,585,000 for future pain and suffering over 54 years, plus 9% interest.” And the panel said in the Nov. 18 opinion that it was allowing Yanes to stipulate to a reduction of the trial-level awards to $12 million for past pain and suffering, and to $17 million for future pain and suffering.

Ben Rubinowitz, the attorney for Yanes and managing partner at Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf, has indicated that his client will accept the $29 million amount allowed by the First Department court, rather than attempt to retry damages in the case.

And in an email Nov. 19, he said that “it is hard to imagine the extent of the pain and suffering that Alonzo went through and will continue to go through for the rest of his life.”

“The bottom line is that Alonzo would give back every penny if he could have his health back,” Rubinowitz also said. And he added that “it is unfortunate that the city of New York failed to follow their own safety protocols and rules and so badly injured Alonzo.”

The New York City Law Department, which has represented the defendants, including the city of New York, the New York City Department of Education and the chemistry teacher who conducted the experiment gone wrong, in the long-running case, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

In the opinion that mostly detailed A.Y.’s injury and suffering, the panel, composed of Judges Troy Webber, Cynthia Kern, Lizbeth Gonz├ílez, Manuel Mendez and Martin Shulman, wrote that his “physical injuries included, among other things, third-degree burns to 31% of plaintiff’s body — mainly on his face, ears, neck, arms, and hands — as well as degloving injuries to his hands and a corneal abrasion to his right eye.”

“Within the first 24 hours of his hospital admission immediately following the accident, 38 pounds of fluid were pumped into plaintiff’s body in an attempt to provide adequate fluid replacement to his damaged tissue, and plaintiff was placed in an induced coma for three days,” the panel also wrote.

Later in the opinion, the justices added that “the third-degree burns that plaintiff suffered also destroyed the nerves and sweat glands underneath his skin, causing him both to lose sensation in those areas and to be unable to regulate his own body temperature.” Moreover, they wrote, “Following his two-month hospital stay, plaintiff was required to wear compression garments, which caused him to overheat. Plaintiff’s treating physician testified not only that these injuries were permanent and incurable, but that plaintiff will also suffer from ‘double or triple’ the problems he ordinarily would have as he ages due to skin atrophy, i.e., the loss of elasticity and thickness of the skin.”

The justices also said that “as for his psychological and emotional suffering, plaintiff testified, in detail, about the sensations he experienced being on fire,” and that “despite stopping, dropping, and rolling in a futile attempt to extinguish the fire, plaintiff said that he ‘felt trapped in [his] own body’ and ‘completely helpless.’”

“He described it as ‘the worst pain [he had] ever felt in [his] entire life,’ and that ‘[n]ot a day passes by where [he does not] think about it,’” they added. “Plaintiff also attested to the unceasing, excruciating physical pain that he endured during his hospital stay, which was minimally alleviated, if at all, with pain medication.”

In August 2020, Tisch had upheld a jury verdict of $60 million in pain and suffering damages awarded to the former 10th-grade student, in a 38-page opinion.

MAR 22, 2018 

City educators, parents, and students were sickened Thursday to hear an Upper West Side teacher found a pot of cash and a cushy job at the end of a rainbow experiment that burned two students.

Beacon High School teacher Anna Poole has landed $23,000 in raises since the 2014 accident that permanently disfigured one teen and prompted nearly $40 million in lawsuits.

She is now an instructional leader assigned to the Education Department headquarters and teaches city teachers how to perform science lessons.

New York City Parents Union founder Mona Davids was appalled.

"I think that's outrageous and ludicrous. It's actually insulting," said Davids. "But it's typical DOE. That's what they do, reward poor performance."

As an example, Davids cited former Bronx principal Santiago Taveras, who lost his job at DeWitt Clinton High School in a 2017 cheating scandal. Despite a probe that found he changed students' grades, Taveras landed in another high-paying city schools gig, as an educational administrator.

Poole, 35, was a rookie science teacher on Jan. 2, 2014, when a chemistry rainbow experiment went horribly wrong and caused a classroom explosion that injured two students.

"Oh my God, I set a kid on fire," Poole cried out, according to a Special Commissioner of Investigation report published five months after horrific blast.

But instead of firing Poole, Education Department officials gave her a new job as citywide instructional specialist, and a series of raises the agency said were contractually required. She currently makes a $79,484 a year — up from $56,048 on the day of the explosion.

City public school teacher and education activist Axia Rodriquez said Poole's plum gig shows the Education Department disciplinary system is upside-down.

"The DOE is helping this lady reboot her career because it was a tragic accident," said Rodriquez, who teaches English-language learners. "But when whistleblowers speak up, their careers are in tatters."

Queens teacher Bobson Wong said on Twitter that the city should put its brightest educators in positions to lead important professional development classes.

"I think this says a lot about the quality of professional development — who gets chosen to do it," Wong tweeted. "I wish teachers had more of an opportunity to run PD, but given how busy we are, this is difficult."

Beacon students were shocked that Poole is giving city educators lessons on how to lead science classes. The classroom blast she touched off four years ago melted the ear of one student, burned the forearms and hair of another, and left a third with PTSD.

So "maybe continuing to work with chemicals isn't a super responsible decision," said sophomore Henry Pearl, 16.

Poole didn't pick up her office phone when called for comment, and her coworkers at 52 Chambers St. said they were too spooked to comment on her story.

"Good luck," said one DOE staffer approached by a Daily News reporter outside Tweed Courthouse. "There's a lot of fear here."

Ben Chapman is an award-winning reporter who covers education for the New York Daily News. A graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Chapman has written more than 2,000 articles about New York City schools for the Daily News since joining the paper in 2009.

By Priscilla DeGregory, NY POST 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.
he 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.
Case Upheld

As a chemistry teacher at Manhattan's Beacon High School "poured methanol from a gallon jug" into dishes containing nitrates, "a giant fireball erupted ... and engulfed" the student, and he burned for at least a minute, wrote the judge.