Readers around the country have been stunned to learn of a recent rash of e-cigarette explosions, and some vapers have even begun to doubt the safety of these popular devices. But it’s a specific component of electronic cigarettes, their lithium-ion batteries, that are causing these serious explosions. To date, dozens of consumers have sustained severe injuries, ranging from chemical burns to blindness, after their vaporizers unexpectedly detonated.
What’s Wrong With Some E-Cig Batteries?
The experienced product liability attorneys at Banville Law, lead sponsor of TheProductLawyers.com, have seen first-hand the kind of physical and emotional damage that an e-cig explosion can cause. That’s why we’ve chosen to take the manufacturers of electronic cigarette batteries head-on, representing multiple clients in their pursuit of financial compensation and corporate accountability.
Joining forces with the exploding electronic cigarette lawyers at New York’s Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, we are now accepting new cases nationwide, helping explosion victims find their footing after a devastating accident.
Manufacturing Defects, Lack Of Safety Mechanisms
Millions of consumer electronic products, from laptop computers to Tesla’s line of electric vehicles, utilize lithium-ion batteries. The batteries can be recharged and produce a lot of power for their size. But for these higher-end applications, the products undergo stringent safety testing and manufacturers are bound to meet rigorous quality controls. More to the point, these sophisticated batteries are equipped with numerous safety precautions. Microprocessor computers are built right in, stopping a charging cycle before the battery becomes overcharged. Mechanisms disconnect the unit when it receives a voltage outside a safe range.
These “sophisticated management systems,” Carnegie Mellon professor Venkat Viswanathan says, are crucial to preventing dangerous battery failures, saving thousands of lives every day. They are essential because lithium-ion batteries, filled with highly-flammable materials, can be extremely dangerous. In fact, the batteries have been implicated in several recent public health crises. Even highly sophisticated lithium-ion batteries aren’t immune from failure. After their mobile phones began overheating and igniting in flames, the major mobile phone company Nokia recalled more than 46 million batteries.
Most electronic cigarette batteries, however, aren’t highly sophisticated pieces of technology, Viswanathan told Wired. In fact, many of these batteries aren’t outfitted with even minimal internal fail-safes, and thus have no way of stopping a dangerous overcharge. Instead, e-cigs are often powered by poor-quality batteries, ones manufactured in the thousands by foreign manufacturers who may not be covered by the strong safety regulations in place in the US. A particular concern is the formation of metal particles in the battery, a defect of the manufacturing process, which may make the units more likely to short-circuit and explode. These metal artifacts spurred serious safety concerns in 2006, when their presence was detected in batteries made by Sony and used to power the laptops of no less than 9 manufacturers, from Hitachi to Apple.
Users Seek Accountability
It’s become apparent that these risks have become a reality for some vapers. In media stories that are becoming ever more frequent, reporters have described traumatic e-cigarette explosions, but in many of these cases, there’s no evidence of user error. While the vaping industry often blames the accidents on inexperienced vapers, users playing with technology they fail to understand, many of these accidents are inexplicable without factoring in the possibility of a manufacturing defect. At least three users, and quite possibly more, have had idle electronic cigarette batteries suddenly explode in their pockets.
Consumers in every state are protected by a set of strong product liability laws. At bottom, they’re based on simple principles. Manufacturers are required to make products that don’t present an unreasonable risk of harm. Where reasonable risks exist, companies must warn their customers of the danger and instruct consumers on how to safely use the product. Companies that create recklessly unsafe products, along with ones that fail to warn consumers of risks, can be held accountable for their negligence in civil lawsuits.
Vape Shops May Also Be Responsible
These responsibilities don’t just apply to manufacturers. In fact, any company within the chain of distribution, including local vape shops, may be held responsible for the injuries caused by a defective lithium-ion battery. As our attorneys have seen all too often, some of these local retailers are also failing in their duty to protect public health.
In some cases, vape shops may be actively building undue dangers into their products. Many retailers have begun selling vaporizer “starter kits,” designing and assembling their own combinations of atomizers, tanks, batteries, and chargers. We’ve seen evidence that several vape shops are pairing the wrong battery with a charger, placing a dangerously unsafe combination directly into the hands of new vapers. In other instances, individual batteries can be purchased, without any of the manufacturer’s packaging, which can include essential safety and handling instructions.
FDA Safety Testing Is On The Way
But change is coming to the e-cig industry. In May 2016, the US Food & Drug Administration released a new plan to regulate electronic cigarette products. Soon, any device that could be considered an “electronic nicotine delivery system” will undergo exacting safety testing. That’s a broad authority, covering everything from the cheap “cig-a-likes” found in gas stations around the country to the individual components of mechanical mods. Scientific review of the chemicals in eLiquids will also be conducted, and vape manufacturers for the first time will be required to open the doors of their production facilities for FDA quality reviews.
E-Cigarette Batteries Hit By Strong Federal Regulations
Lithium-ion batteries have also fallen under the FDA’s new regulatory authority. While some batteries, ones that can be purchased for use in a variety of products other than e-cigs, won’t be required to apply for approval, every battery that comes packaged with an electronic cigarette will be. So will batteries that could be “reasonably expected” to be used in an e-cig.
In a document outlining its new regulations in-depth, the FDA addressed the question of e-cig explosions directly:
“FDA also remains concerned about reports of exploding batteries. Batteries that are co-packaged with other components or parts of an [electronic nicotine delivery system] (e.g., cartridges and tanks) or otherwise intended or reasonably expected to be used with or for the consumption of [electronic nicotine delivery systems] are components or parts and subject to FDA’s tobacco product authorities.”
In the coming months, we can expect electronic cigarette manufacturers to take renewed interest in the quality and safety of their manufacturing process. Hopefully, we’ll also see a decline in the number of defective e-cig batteries that are exploding. But as with most major changes, this one will come slowly, and it’s far from fool-proof. Rigorous safety testing is still one to two years out from the August 8, 2016, date that the FDA has said its new authority will go into effect.
For now, the job of protecting public safety remains in the hands of individual consumers. In some industries, personal injury lawsuits are the only way of holding negligent manufacturers accountable to the customers who purchase and use their products. Until the FDA’s new federal regulations go into effect, it appears that the e-cig industry will be one of them.
But you don’t have to fight alone. If you were injured by an exploding electronic cigarette, contact the attorneys at Banville Law today for a free consultation. You can learn more about your legal options at absolutely no cost and, if you have a case against a manufacturer and / or retailer, our legal services come on a contingency-fee basis. That means you owe us nothing until we win compensation for you.
Further E-Cig Resources & Guides