Defective e-cigarettes can cause burns and other serious injuries when their batteries explode or light on fire. Unfortunately, e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers try to avoid liability for these incidents, often by blaming consumers.
At Phelan Petty, we know from experience that battery and design defects are usually to blame when e-cigarette explosions happen. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can protect yourself from faulty e-cigarettes and what you can do if you’ve been burned or otherwise injured by one of these devices.
What Is an E-Cigarette?
E-cigarettes are an increasingly popular way to consume nicotine. Rather than smoke tobacco, e-cigarette users inhale a vapor mixture that contains nicotine as well as various flavoring and aromatic agents. These devices are also called “vape pens” or “PVs” (personal vaporizers). Today, e-cigarettes are a multibillion-dollar industry.
While many users believe e-cigarettes are safer than traditional tobacco products, these devices have their own unique risks. Public health experts agree that establishing the true safety and health impacts of these devices and the “e-liquids” they use will require further study. And a significant number of e-cigarette users have suffered injuries when their devices exploded or burst into flames, often without any warning.
According to a federal report, there were 195 reported e-cigarette explosions and fires in the United States between January 2009 and December 2016. While no deaths were reported, 133 injuries occurred. These incidents included:
- 60 injuries while an e-cigarette was in use
- 61 injuries while an e-cigarette or battery was in someone’s pocket
- 48 injuries while a device was charging
More than 60% of the incidents involved moderate to severe injuries, including:
- Second or third-degree burns
- Lost body parts
- Facial injuries
- Chemical smoke inhalation
- Lacerations that required stitches
In addition, the report found 10 incidents where e-cigarettes exploded, starting major fires and putting people’s property and lives in danger.
Why Do E-Cigarettes Explode?
According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), e-cigarette design is a “new and unique hazard” for consumers. An e-cigarette has several parts, including the following components:
- A lithium-ion battery
- A microprocessor
- A cartridge that holds the “e-liquid” or “juice”
- A heating element and atomizer that vaporizes the liquid
In most e-cigarette explosion cases, the lithium-ion battery causes the explosion.
Lithium-ion batteries are made of combustible chemicals that are separated by a thin, porous film. In a defective battery, this film might fail, allowing the chemicals to combine too quickly. The rapid combination of chemicals in turn causes fires and explosions.
While lithium-ion batteries are a time-tested and relatively safe technology, the batteries in an e-cigarette are very different than the ones in your smartphone or laptop. In most electronic devices, a plastic case or pouch holds the lithium-ion battery. When a battery failure happens, a fire can occur, but the case or pouch will not become pressurized and explode.
In contrast, the tube-shaped lithium-ion batteries in an e-cigarette sit inside a small metal canister. When the battery fails, pressure and heat quickly build in this sealed space. Eventually, the excess pressure finds a release at one of the two ends, which are an e-cigarette’s weakest points. This can cause a rupture at one end that shoots the e-cigarette across a room like a rocket.
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Who Is At Fault for E-Cigarette Injuries?
Unfortunately, many e-cigarette manufacturers and distributors try to blame users for these explosions. Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, a trade group for e-cigarette businesses, blames consumers for using the wrong chargers or modifying their e-cigarettes.
“When used and charged properly, vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than any other product that is powered by lithium-ion batteries, like cellphones or laptops,” Conley asserted in a 2016 interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Most experts disagree with this argument. The cheap batteries in many e-cigarettes often contain design and manufacturing defects. Some lack electronic safety controls that prevent overcharging, while others have design defects that allow dangerous quantities of gas to build up inside the battery.
And e-cigarette explosions can occur even when consumers follow the manufacturer’s directions for using the devices. For example, one of our clients at Phelan Petty suffered second- and third-degree burns on his groin and legs after an e-cigarette battery spontaneously combusted in his pocket. Another client suffered serious burns when she attempted to remove her e-cigarette from its charger and it suddenly exploded.
According to a 2017 statement from the USFA, as long as manufacturers keep using lithium-ion batteries in e-cigarettes, severe injuries will continue to occur.
How Can I Protect My Family From Dangerous E-Cigarettes?
All e-cigarettes carry a risk of explosion, and our attorneys at Phelan Petty strongly encourage users to work with their doctor and create a plan to quit nicotine rather than keep using an e-cigarette indefinitely. However, if you decide to use an e-cigarette or vape pen, you should follow the tips listed below to reduce your risk of suffering injuries in an explosion or fire.
- Never modify or build your own vaping device.
You could damage the battery and other components, increasing the risk of an explosion.
- Follow the device’s directions.
Always follow the device’s charging and use directions.
- Purchase a UL-certified e-cigarette system.
In 2017, the independent safety science company UL announced standards covering e-cigarette batteries and electronic systems. While buying an e-cigarette that bears the UL certification does not guarantee that the device is safe, the additional layer of oversight does offer some added protection against shoddy manufacturing and design. Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers sometimes put fake UL certifications on devices, so try to verify that an e-cigarette’s UL certification is genuine before you buy it.
- Use a storage case for extra lithium-ion batteries.
You should never carry an uncovered lithium-ion battery in your pocket or bag. If the battery makes contact with metal, such as keys or loose change, it can short-circuit and set on fire or even explode.
What to Do After an E-Cigarette Explosion
If you or a loved one suffers injuries in an e-cigarette explosion, you should immediately seek medical attention. If necessary, call the fire department or 911 for help. E-cigarette explosions can cause serious burns and other injuries that require emergency treatment, and your medical records will also serve as important evidence in your legal claims against the e-cigarette’s manufacturer or distributor.
You should also document the explosion and its impact through pictures. Take photos of your injuries and the damage caused by the explosion. And make sure to retain the e-cigarette system and any debris it left behind when it exploded, as this will provide important evidence for any legal action.
Finally, you should contact the experienced e-cigarette injury lawyers at Phelan Petty. Our firm has represented multiple e-cigarette explosion victims, and we understand the nuances of these product liability claims. Our team collaborates with respected engineers, physicians, and other experts so we can reconstruct the device failure, document your injuries, and identify the responsible parties.
Phelan Petty: Experienced Virginia E-Cigarette Lawyers
E-cigarette injury claims require a careful analysis of the device’s design and construction. You also need to calculate your damages and analyze state and federal laws that apply to your claim. At Phelan Petty, we use our extensive knowledge of product liability law and e-cigarette litigation to fight for our clients. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries due to a defective e-cigarette, schedule your no-risk consultation with one of our attorneys today by completing our easy online contact form or calling 866-249-3164.
McKenna, L. A. Jr. (2017, July). Electronic cigarette fires and
explosions in the United States, 2009 – 2016. Maryland: United States Fire Administration. Retrieved from https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf
Randazzo, S. (2016, July 3). E-Cigarette users sue over exploding devices. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/e-cigarette-users-sue-over-exploding-devices-1467538202
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.