Blog

Charges filed in fatal workplace accident at university lab

Photo of Brian Humphrey

Research assistants in university laboratories in Texas deserve the same workplace protections as those provided to other professionals. However, many of these university workers are forced to work under unsafe conditions, which can lead to devastating workplace accidents. That is what happened to one University of California, Los Angeles research assistance, who suffered such severe burns that she died in mid-January 2009. Now, the professor who was in charge of the victim's research is facing labor code violations that could land him in prison for four years.

Official reports show that this is the first instance of criminal prosecution for a laboratory accident at an American academic institution. This could be a seminal personal injury case for those who suffer workplace accidents in a university setting.

Official reports show that the young woman suffered serious injury in late December 2008 while she was working with Tert-Butyllithium, a compound known to spontaneously ignite when it is exposed to air. The victim caught fire while others were in the lab. They tried to help by squelching the blaze, but their efforts were largely ineffective, though they called 911 immediately. The 23-year-old victim had recently graduated with her bachelor's degree; she died just days after the incident.

The case has shined a spotlight on the disparity between safety culture at the nation's universities when compared to similar laboratories in private industry. In fact, the victim in this case was not even wearing the minimum required protection -- a fire-resistant lab coat -- that would have been provided for an industrial chemist in a business environment. Further, few safety guidelines were provided for her work that day, with the woman's professor only telling her to "be careful."

As the professor's case waits for a potential dismissal in appeals court, scores of academics have spoken on his behalf, saying that such an accident could have occurred in any professor's lab. Still, this case could have wide-reaching implications for those who suffer workplace accidents in university settings. No workplace should be exempt from basic safety procedures designed to protect workers throughout industrial chemistry laboratories.

Source: The Spec, "A young lab worker, a professor and a deadly accident" Kate Allen, Mar. 30, 2014

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Awards & Recognition

  • 2016-2017 Equal Access to Justice Champion

    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

  • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers

    The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state or region who meet stringent qualifications as civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense trial lawyers. Selection is based on a thorough multi-phase objective and uniformly applied process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum

    Established in 1993, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (which includes the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum) is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. There are over 4000 members throughout the country. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.

  • Recognized by Best Lawyers America | Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz | 2017

    Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Their methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

  • Lead Counsel Rated

    In order to earn the Lead Counsel Rating, an attorney must not only demonstrate significant legal experience, but must also receive multiple peer recommendations advocating his or her ability. This is a key component in the screening process.

  • Texas Super Lawyers | Texas Monthly

    Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in Texas via a patented multiphase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The Texas lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in Texas Super Lawyers Top Lists.

Get Your Free Case Review 713.587.9668

Let Us Help You Today! Request a Free Consultation

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information
disclaimer.

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

close

Privacy Policy

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Personal Injury Large Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs', taking a lead role in the plaintiffs' steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Plant Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs' steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Personal Injury Work Site Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm's client.

  • $12 Million Auto Accident 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $30 Million Personal Injury Burn Victims

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $30 million.

Our Record Of Success.

When you are hurt and you choose a law firm to represent you in court or at the negotiation table, you need to carefully consider the firm's record.

More Success Stories