The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) received harsh criticism late last year when they announced Patrick Harran as one of their new class of Fellows. Dr. Harran is best known outside of scientific circles as the UCLA chemistry professor nearly charged with felony manslaughter following a chemical fire in a laboratory he supervised.
The AAAS responded to critics and their followers by rescinding Harran’s nomination and stating that nominating members were unaware of the doctor’s involvement with the fatal fire that resulted in the wrongful death of Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji in 2008.
In the 2008 incident, Sangji, 23, was using a plastic syringe to transfer t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another. That syringe came apart and the chemical compound ignited immediately following its exposure to air. Sangji was not wearing a protective lab coat and as such suffered extensive burns on December 28, 2008. She died from complications due to those burns eighteen days later.
In the months following the incident, Harran, 46, was charged with four felonies and accused of willfully violating state labor codes; thereby contributing to the wrongful death of Sangji due to his failure to both provide proper safety training and establishing safety guidelines for lab workers. Such guidelines like the requiring of safety gear that would have reduced the severity of the chemical burns Sangji suffered.
In a letter protesting the AAAS nomination, a group of workplace safety officials, public health professors, and others underscored their concern of putting Harran in such an esteemed position by writing, “His careless practices put his staff and students at risk of grave harm.”
Harran was the first professor in U.S. history to be charged with a felony (let alone three) relating to the wrongful death of a student under his laboratory supervision. Had he been convicted, Harran could have faced as much as 4 and a half years in prison. Instead, in an agreement with prosecutors, Harran was ordered to perform 800 hours of community service and pay $10,000 to the Grossman Burn center.
During the same period Harran’s criminal case was in progress, the family of Richard Din, who died in April 2012 following an infection received while handling bacteria as a research associate, filed a wrongful death suit against Din’s employers, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Like Sangji, Din’s death was determined to be the result of improper laboratory supervision.
If you have been injured due to negligence and are in need of a personal injury lawyer in Torrance or Los Angeles, please contact the Booth & Koskoff office nearest you for a free personal injury case evaluation.
Photo credit: Family photo