In Maple Grove, Minnesota, a 15-year-old boy is spending a few days in a burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center after a flash explosion in a science class that burned him and three other Maple Grove Junior High School students. The three others were treated and released, but the boy, Dane Neuberger, is still in the hospital suffering from second-degree burns on his face and neck.
Neuberger said he was simply taking notes in class when suddenly, and from seemingly out of nowhere, he was on fire. Neuberger was sitting in the front row of class when his teacher asked the ninth-graders to turn their desks toward a lab table while he conducted experiments. They were learning about the flammable substance methanol. But the flame that was supposed to stay in the bottle and consume the methanol did not do so, the container exploded.
The flame from the container came in contact with some spilled methanol that was left on a lab table, which caught fire. This is the fire that hit Neuberger in the face, neck and hand. It also caught his shirt, which he ripped off while the teacher rushed to help him.
“I was on fire. The teacher wrapped me with a fireproof blanket,” he recalled. “People were screaming and just ran out.” another student said that “I saw a kid running down the hallway, he was burned, black, with no shirt, running and screaming.”
Neuberger remembers that, “Immediately afterwards, I was in shock, so I didn’t feel much. But when I was sitting in the nurse’s office, the pain became unbearable– it felt like I didn’t have my lips.”
Dr. Ryan Fey, a surgeon at HCMC’s Burn Unit, affirmed the severity of Neuberger’s wounds: “Burns like these are quite painful.” But he offered some hope in saying that these burns may be able to heal without skin grafts and possibly without permanent burn scars. “If the wounds heal in about 10 days, then we’ll know,” Fey said. “Right now, we think the risk [of long-term scarring] is pretty minimal.”
Both the school district and state fire marshal are investigating the incident, to determine the exact cause and whether the teacher committed negligence in fire safety precautions.
Another accidental flash fire took place recently in Crestview, Florida. There, a woman was undergoing minor surgery at a medical center to remove cysts from her head when a blaze suddenly erupted in the operating room, leaving the woman with severe burns to her face and neck.
Kim Grice, a 29-year-old mother of three from Holt, Florida, was unconscious during the incident, which was fortunate. She was immediately flown to a hospital with a burn center in Alabama. It was not clear what caused the flash fire. The woman’s mother said that “Kim said to me, ‘They woke me up and everyone around me was hysterical. I don’t know what happened to me.'”
Perhaps because there will be an investigation into possible doctor negligence or nurse negligence in the operating room, or possible liability for a medical device maker that was in the operating room, “the doctors and the hospital are not telling us what happened,” said the woman’s uncle. “They did say they had never seen anything like it before, and they are terribly sorry that it happened.”
A statement from the facility, the North Okaloosa Medical Center, read: “The hospital deeply regrets today’s event in which a patient sustained burns during a procedure in our ambulatory surgery center. The staff took immediate steps to respond, including moving the patient to the hospital’s emergency department. . .We are conducting a thorough review to fully understand what happened in a deliberate effort to prevent such an event from occurring again.”
If you or someone you know does suffer a severe burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injury suffered, and if the injured party has a solid legal case.