New York City schoolteachers owe students a general duty of care to ensure their safety and wellbeing while attending class. Rules may prohibit instructors from engaging in hazardous activities or using flammable materials when conducting a course. In the event that a teacher negligently breaches a duty of care, a student or a parent may file a legal action against a teacher, the school and its district.

During a chemistry class at a Manhattan high school, a teacher’s dangerous presentation of the “rainbow experiment” went awry. According to American School and University Magazine, a federal agency warned the public about the dangers of the rainbow experiment. During the past 15 years two other accidents had occurred.

Failure of duty

The science teacher, however, did not heed the warning and proceeded with the experiment. While demonstrating how mineral salts change color when exposed to a lit flame of methanol, a massive fireball exploded. The accident resulted in a 16-year-old student becoming covered in flames.

Some students in the lab were able to jump underneath their desks, and another student suffered first-degree burns. The student who found himself engulfed in flames, however, spent several months in a burn unit and various hospitals. He required skin graft operations, and because the flames burned deep into his skin, the injuries to his sweat glands left parts of his body without the ability to perspire.

Legal action for damages

Because the science teacher owed a duty of care to promote her students’ safety, she should have taken steps to reduce the possible dangers of the rainbow experiment. The student filed a legal action to recover some relief from his devastating burns. The jury found the schoolteacher and Department of Education liable for his personal injuries.

The verdict resulted in nearly $60 million worth of damages. The victim received $29 million for the rehabilitation he requires for the next 54 years. An additional $29 million award was for his pain and suffering.