Ex-student hurt in lab sues Hopkins seeking $60 million Man had to quit career as scientist after explosion

March 21, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A former Johns Hopkins University graduate student whose dreams of a career as a scientist were shattered in a laboratory explosion has filed a $60 million lawsuit against the university and the company that sponsored the fateful experiment.

Bogdan Dabrowski was a few months from his long-awaited doctorate in materials science when a boiling mixture of acid and man-made diamond dust exploded in his hand in a university laboratory.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court by Mr. Dabrowski's lawyer, Marvin Ellin, claims that the defendants cost Mr. Dabrowski years of future employment in his specialty, studying materials with an electron microscope. It was filed just days before the third anniversary of the accident when Maryland's statute of limitations would have prevented any litigation.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the explosion, Mr. Dabrowski, 47, said yesterday that he filed the suit because Hopkins had discharged him as a student and cut off his $14,000-a-year stipend, which it had extended in the hope that Mr. Dabrowski might complete his graduate studies.

"I wanted to work, and still I want to work," he said. "But I need help."

Hopkins response

Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea said yesterday that Mr. Dabrowski informed the university late last year that he could not complete his degree, so the school had no choice but to end his status as a student. The university has paid all of Mr. Dabrowski's medical expenses related to the explosion, and will continue to do so, Mr. O'Shea said.

"Ever since the accident, we've done everything we could to get him well," Mr. O'Shea said. "We continued to offer him the assistance to resume his studies and to offer him his stipend.

"We regret that it's come to this. We regret that he's abandoned his degree program."

The accident happened the night of March 23, 1993, when Mr. Dabrowski was performing work outside his normal studies at the request of his adviser and professor, Moshe Rosen. Professor Rosen was a partner with a Virginia company, Science Applications International Corp., which in turn had a contract with the federal government to analyze microscopic diamond particles.

The professor enlisted Mr. Dabrowski for some of the work, including cleaning the dust with a mixture of acids provided by the company.

Concerns voiced

Mr. Dabrowski, who was not a chemist, voiced concerns about working with the acids, but Professor Rosen said at the time that Mr. Dabrowski never asked to be taken off the project.

The explosion tore through the protective screen and hood Mr. Dabrowski was wearing, burning and cutting his face. He lost almost all use of his eyes and ears.

Mr. Dabrowski claims he was wearing safety glasses at the time of the accident, but Mr. O'Shea said the Hopkins investigation found no evidence of that.

Wearing such glasses during lab work is university policy, and Mr. Dabrowski received training to wear them, the spokesman said.

Professor Rosen and Shmuel Eidelman, a scientist with Science Applications International Corp., also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Sue Volek, a spokeswoman for the firm, declined comment on the suit, saying it was standard policy for the company not to discuss pending litigation.

'They were responsible'

"I think that they were responsible for it," Mr. Dabrowski says. "I should have been warned, at least told, that this was not safe."

He said he had tried to attend seminars at the university, but that much of the help he was promised didn't materialize.

For example, he said, a student assigned to assist him with lab work didn't finish what he was assigned to do.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dabrowski struggled to hear professors and read course material.

Told that Mr. Dabrowski believed the university had not given him enough help, Mr. O'Shea said: "We're sorry he feels that way."

Physical problems

After a number of operations, Mr. Dabrowski has some vision and hearing, but still cannot read for very long before pain and blurring occur. He said that the most he can do many days is sit at home with his eyes closed, listening to the radio.

Now that he is no longer a student, he said, he worries that when his visa runs out in August he could be ordered to return to his native Poland.

Meanwhile, his wife, Renata, supports him and their two teen-age daughters by cleaning houses.

"I simply don't know at this moment," Mr. Dabrowski said of whether he ever could work as a scientist. "If it is possible that the pain will be gone, I will work."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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