Beyond questions over the dubious health consequences of vaporizing itself, many electronic cigarette users have learned that their new habit may present unforeseen dangers of a different kind. In report after report, media sources have described sudden, often inexplicable, e-cig explosions, incidents that have left users with severe burns, deep puncture wounds and blind. Wide-ranging fires are common, and some vapers have been left with searing chemical burns.
After investigating, fire marshals across the country have come to a unanimous conclusion: defective lithium-ion batteries are blowing up, and the risk seems highest when an electronic cigarette is charging.
Defective E-Cig Batteries Pose Major Problem
Take apart most consumer electronics and you’re likely to find a lithium-ion battery inside. These efficient, rechargeable batteries are growing more and more common, powering everything from mobile phones, flashlights and power tools to electric wheelchairs, Tesla’s electric cars and Nasa’s Curiosity rover, currently roaming the surface of Mars. But those are all high-end uses, and the batteries in your phone or an electric car are extremely sophisticated pieces of technology.
When they’re designed for high-end consumer electronics, lithium-ion batteries undergo rigorous safety testing before they reach consumers, because these things can be dangerous. Most are outfitted with multiple “fail-safe” mechanisms, internal circuits and software that can cut off a battery’s charging cycle before it gets over-heated or over-charged. But many of the batteries found in electronic cigarettes are likely to be far cheaper, and less advanced, than the models you’ll see being manufactured by Tesla.
“Things Can Go Wrong”
Lithium-ion batteries are already fairly sensitive, Venkat Viswanathan, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University told Wired in February 2016, especially to temperature fluctuations. Outside of a safe window, between 50 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, “things can go wrong,” Viswanathan says. Their voltage capacity is also limited; anywhere outside 3 to 4.2 volts and the contents of the battery could start expanding, leading to unsustainable pressures and ultimately explosion.
But there’s an even more acute problem with the cheap, foreign-made batteries currently flooding the US market. All those sophisticated fail-safes we mentioned? The batteries in e-cigs might not have them, meaning there’s nothing to stop a unit from over-changing and becoming a little detonator. Plus, the foreign countries where many of these batteries are being manufactured may not have strong consumer protection laws like those established in America.
Dangerous batteries can even slip into the products of huge, reputable companies. In 2007, Finnish telecom giant Nokia recalled nearly 46 million mobile phones over Japanese-made batteries that could short-circuit and overheat during charging. While actual explosions were rare, at least one of Nokia’s phones detonated in the Philippines, in the same room where its owner, her child and her grandchild were sleeping, according to the Mukamo news outlet. One year earlier, more than 4 million Dell laptop batteries had been recalled, after 6 of the products had overheated and burst into flames.
Warnings Few & Far Between
In some electronic cigarettes, danger might be built right in, alongside atomizers, cartomizers and eLiquid tanks. That may be especially true at less-than-cautious vape shops, who have begun assembling their own “starter kit” vaporizers for newbies. Our investigations have found that some retailers aren’t adequately warning their customers of the safety measures required to use these devices, and may actually be pairing batteries with inappropriate chargers.
Some explosions have even been caused by batteries that weren’t in use at the time. One of our own clients sustained third-degree burns when a battery that was in her pocket blew up. Similar reports have surfaced in Kentucky and Ohio, with a defective lithium-ion battery always the suspected cause.
Industry advocates often say that ignorant users are at the root of any e-cig battery problems. But clear examples of user error are actually few and far between.
In the UK, a series of more than 100 e-cigarette battery explosions were largely chalked up to people using the wrong chargers to refill their batteries. But it’s uncertain whether or not any of these vapers were ever warned of the specific voltages that were safe for them to use. In many vape shops, new batteries can be purchased individually, but few come with any of the manufacturer’s packaging that might bear such warnings. In fact, a consortium of fire departments in England and Wales began to advocate for increased warnings on e-cigarette packages after the trend in e-cig explosions was noticed, the Independent reported in July 2015.
New Government Oversight For E-Cigarettes
The Food & Drug Administration, which already regulates traditional tobacco products, is now preparing to take electronic cigarettes head-on. New regulatory authority, won by the agency in May 2016 after months of legal challenge, will allow the FDA to review the safety and manufacturing quality of all e-cigarette products, including most of the lithium-ion batteries used to power e-cigs. But the federal government’s new powers only go into effect in August, and manufacturers large and small will have at least one year to turn in their safety documentation for FDA review. For now, electronic cigarettes are still on the market, and many of their batteries may be equipped with woefully inadequate safety mechanisms.
Soon, manufacturers will have to answer directly to the government for the quality or safety of their products. In the present, they have to answer to consumers. The civil legal system is clear. Unsuspecting users don’t have to accept defective products.
Lawsuits Hold Negligent Manufacturers Accountable
Manufacturers and retailers are held to a high standard, no matter the product. Defects are intolerable, and when people get hurt, they have every right to hold negligent parties responsible. For some accident survivors, filing a product liability lawsuit after an e-cig explosion isn’t just a way to pursue necessary compensation; it’s the right choice given a manufacturer or retailer’s reckless disregard for public safety.
At Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, we believe that this has become a major problem, one that ultimately comes down to negligent manufacturers and local retailers who fail to warn their customers of known risks. That’s why our attorneys are fighting back, leading a national effort to protect the best interests of individual vapers and promote accountability within the booming, but wholly unregulated, e-cig industry.
Our attorneys are now investigating new exploding e-cig cases, accepting clients nationwide.
Marc Freund, Esq., a Partner at our firm, has been chosen to spearhead our exploding e-cigarette team. An experienced litigator who has won millions for his clients, Marc is already representing multiple individuals who were injured in an e-cig explosion. We want to know your story. Our personal injury lawyers may be able to help, and your initial legal consultation is completely free.