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Researcher maimed in laboratory explosion sues UH


    The Pacific Ocean Sciences and Technology (POST) building at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, as seen on July 1. A postdoctoral fellow and her wife have filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Hawaii and others after she lost her right arm in a March 2016 laboratory explosion.

A postdoctoral fellow and her spouse have filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Hawaii and others after she lost her right arm in a March 2016 laboratory explosion.

Thea Ekins-Coward and her wife, Amy, accuse UH, principal investigator Dr. Jian Yu, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute Director Dr. Richard Rocheleau and others of personal injury, negligence, gross negligence, failure to warn of hazards, dangerous condition of public property and emotional distress.

The explosion occurred on March 16 at a laboratory operated by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology building. Ekins-Coward started as a postdoctoral fellow under Yu in October 2015.

She was working on a mixture of low-pressure hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen when the portable metal cylinder the gasses were contained in exploded.

According to the complaint filed this month, she lost her right arm above the elbow, suffered abrasions to her cornea, facial burns and nerve damage to her ears, resulting in “loss of high-frequency hearing.”

The laboratory remains closed.

The lawsuit said the tanks provided to Ekins-Coward were dangerous, unsuitable for research and experiments and not designed for flammable gasses.

Ekins-Coward and her wife accused the defendants’ failure to warn Ekins-Coward of the dangers. She noted both Yu and Rocheleau “failed to take any steps to make the laboratory safe, failed to provide necessary safety training to Thea Ekins-Coward and failed to provide proper and safe equipment.”

Of the lawsuit, UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said, “We have not been served.” He declined further comment due to the pending litigation.

Ekins-Coward Civil Complaint by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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  • Ridiculous lawsuit!! Who is not to say she wasn’t negligent in mixing the ingredients yet, blaming the UH for her lost of limb. I would fight this case ….nothing more and nothing less. Its not about feeling sorry that she suffered a physical loss of limb…its a question of liability and she is to blame for her incompetence. nothing more and nothing less.

    • It is NOT a ridiculous lawsuit. Yu and Rocheleu were responsible for setting up the experiment for this researcher to work on and it was in the news that post blast inspection showed that their setup was irresponsible and violated all safety standards in using an electronic pressure gauge that uses electricity for highly flammable gases like oxygen and hydrogen mixed together. It was also in the story, but have to wait for the lawsuit that it was alleged this researcher went to Yu before the explosion and told him that she saw sparks coming from the electronic pressure gauge and Yu told her something like ‘don’t worry about it’. Bet you a Costco pizza that UH will settle out of court with a gag order for the researcher to not publicly discuss the matter. They take your advice of fighting all out in court, given the available information and UH’s reputation (Wonder blunder, Apple/Carbone/Hinshaw fiasco, Greenwood fiasco, Arnold fiasco, etc., Team Yana failure, etc., garans UH is going to LOSE bigtime. If you haven’t noticed UH is terribly managed and they only worry about protecting those in their ivory tower. They have an ongoing history of shortchanging students and leaving them on the short end of the stick and doubt this tragic story of this UH researcher getting her arm blown off and other debilitating injuries in a UH HNEI sanctioned research experiment is NO different.

    • So I’m taking it you know for sure that she, and she alone, was to blame for this incident and nobody else shares any responsibility right? Well then case closed. Who needs a judge and jury when you have internet posters like yourself who already know what happened and who’s liable.

    • HOSSANA – You are wrong both as a matter of fact and a matter of law.

      You should read the lawsuit text (which you somehow didn’t do before commenting … very odd) before commenting.

  • When a PhD does research at the UH, who decides how the lab is set up and what equipment is used? I think that’s an important question that I have NEVER seen answered in the various news articles about this accident. Is it the “University” (and if so, which administrator specifically)? Is it the individual researchers? Is it a group of people, and does that include the person who was injured? To me, that makes a big difference on who should be getting sued, even if we all know the University (and not individuals) has the deep pockets.

  • Of all the branches of UH, HNEI is the most incompetent of all. It is full of quack researchers and is kept alive by quack politicians. I hope this accident causes it to be abolished.

    The new revelation in the court document is that the HNEI Director Dr. Rocheleau was actually the Principal Investigator of the grant, but handed off all his responsibilities to Dr. Yu. This is a bad practice I saw at another UH research institute about 30 years ago and it always leads to trouble. Both of these characters should be fired.

  • UH is going to lose this suit, if the facts in the pleading are even partially correct. This is a real tragedy for the injured researcher.

    People who are writing here that the researcher alone is responsible do not understand the law. UH cannot hope to avoid having to pay damages in this case.

  • I hope that Amy Eskins-Coward gets everything she is asking for and more. The evidence is overwhelming that the people named in the civil suit are negligent and by what they call
    vicarious liability, the University is also financially liable for the injury caused to Amy Eskins-Coward.
    If the University were smart, they and Rochereau would agree to settle and separate themselves from Yu and let him hang as he was primarily at fault for the accident.
    Unfortunately, the University gets dragged into something like this as they and the State are the “deep pockets” in this kind of situation.

  • Why not sue. The state and city is so fearful of going to court because of the possibility of losing more that they’ll end up settling, guaranteed. UH also has the option to counter sue but that won’t happen as again that means going to court. So now no one was at fault is out the window.

  • UH will pay out millions for this and NO ONE will be held responsible. If happens time and again with Hawaii state government – incompetent management! This is what you get with a one party system, incompetent appointees holding jobs they’re unqualified for.
    The predictable end result is that taxpayers are again left holding the bag and those responsible get off scot free.

  • The lawsuit has only been filed – we all agree the injuries are terrible, but let’s let the system decide whether the school was at fault. Goodness – everybody trying to line up on one side or the other, and we don’t even know the entire story.

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