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.