E-cigarettes hit the US market in 2007, and in just under a decade, have grown into a $5.2 billion industry, according to Bloomberg News. Across the country, former smokers have switched to vaporizing, using a variety of products to satisfy their cravings for nicotine. Non-smokers, and minors have also adopted e-cigs, purchasing simple “cig-a-like” devices and complex mechanical mods in droves. It’s no longer a trend. Electronic cigarettes are here to stay.
Regulators Turn Eye To Safety Of Vapes, E-Cigs
But the safety of this radically new technology remains up for debate. Researchers have yet to fully study the long-term consequences of vaping, which uses a heated coil to convert a liquid solution, usually composed of glycerine, propylene glycol, nicotine and flavoring chemicals, into a gas for inhalation. Much attention has been placed on these chemical substances and, until recently, manufacturers kept the exact ingredients in their products as closely-guarded secrets. That’s changing; the FDA will soon require every manufacturer to disclose its chemical recipe, allowing regulators to study the potential health effects of e-cigs in detail.
But the agency is also taking an eye to the devices consumers use to vaporize. Spurred by a rash of devastating e-cigarette explosions, government officials are beginning to scrutinize the manufacturing quality of e-cigs, both large and small, with a particular focus on the lithium-ion batteries used to power them.
Defective Electronic Cigarettes Explode
In 2014, the US Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) published a shocking report on 25 cases in which electronic cigarettes had suddenly, and inexplicably, exploded. In many of these incidents, users sustained severe injuries, most commonly:
- burns and chemical burns
- puncture wounds from shrapnel
- amputations, most often loss of fingers
- sensory impairment, frequently blindings
According to the official review, around 80% of the explosions occurred during charging, while an e-cig was plugged into a laptop’s USB port, a wall outlet or the car charger in a user’s vehicle. Obviously, the risk of personal injury is particularly high, but the risk of personal property loss is also present, with nearly every explosion leading to some degree of fire spreading beyond the exploding e-cigarette itself. In at least one case, an entire room, along with its contents, was lost to the fire.
At the time, it was unclear how often e-cigs actually exploded. FEMA’s review wasn’t exhaustive; fire officials relied only on media reports and explosions reported to local fire departments. While we still don’t have any accurate statistics on the problem, news stations across the country have been reporting electronic cigarette explosions at an alarming rate. It now seems that an e-cig explodes at least every other day.
Fire Officials Blame Lithium-Ion Batteries
But what’s behind these explosions isn’t in doubt. It’s the lithium-ion batteries used to power most electronic cigarettes. Rechargeable and small, lithium-ion batteries are used in numerous consumer electronics, from laptop computers to electric cars. Researchers have long worried about their safety, though, since the batteries contain highly combustible chemicals and must be kept pressurized to work properly. Without internal safety mechanisms, a lithium-ion battery can quickly overcharge, heating to an unsafe level and ultimately, exploding.
Lithium-ion batteries have also been blamed for the recent rash of exploding “hoverboards.” But in most high-end applications, like cell phones, the units are outfitted with multiple “fail-safe” circuits and microprocessors, measures that can prevent a dangerous short-circuit. Even in these cases, the batteries aren’t without their weaknesses. In recent years, several major computer manufacturers have recalled millions of products after laptops began catching fire unexpectedly.
Electronic cigarette batteries are an entirely different story. Most of the e-cigs currently on the market, from cig-a-likes to their slightly more sophisticated “vape pen” cousins, aren’t high-end consumer electronics. Neither, it seems, are their batteries. Many of these devices are lacking the elaborate safety technology that keeps laptop and cellphone batteries in check. Most are churned out by the thousands in overseas factories, manufacturing facilities that may not be held to the same strict safety standards that exist in the US. It only takes one small manufacturing defect, or one neglected fail-safe, to turn these “reliable” products into deadly weapons.
E-Cigs Won’t Be “Wild West” For Long
Once described as the “Wild West” of business, electronic cigarettes now fall under the authority of the US Food & Drug Administration, and will soon be regulated just like traditional cigarettes and cigars. Starting on August 8, 2016, e-cig manufacturers will have to apply for FDA approval, both of new and existing products. Their production facilities will be open to surprise inspections, and their products, from cig-a-likes and eLiquids to mechanical mod components, will have to undergo rigorous safety testing. Batteries that accompany e-cigs, and those that one could “reasonably expect” to be used in electronic cigarettes, will also be covered.
In a news conference shortly after the FDA’s new regulatory authorities were announced, Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller said, “we need to bring these products out of the wild, wild west and into the world of regulation so that we can protect the public with sensible, reasonable, regulation.”
But none of these changes have gone into effect yet, and even after they do, most manufacturers will have up to two years before their approval documents are considered overdue. That leaves a lot of e-cigs, along with potentially defective batteries, lining the shelves of vape shops across the country. Of course, none of these regulations will help vapers who have already been injured in e-cig explosions. America’s long history of consumer safety laws, however, offer injury survivors another option.
How Product Liability Laws Help Injured Vapers
Every state has strong product liability laws, under which consumers who have been harmed can hold manufacturers, distributors, and retailers accountable for making and selling unreasonably dangerous products.
Batteries shouldn’t just explode, but as we’ve seen in the recent series of e-cig explosions, they can. And while batteries obviously come with a certain degree of risk, manufacturers and retailers are required to communicate those risks adequately before selling a product to consumers.
When companies fail to do so, and someone gets hurt, the victims have every right to file a product liability lawsuit for financial compensation. Again, this duty to public safety doesn’t just apply to manufacturers. In many cases, the responsibility transfers to every company along the chain of distribution, up to and including the vape shop where you purchase an e-cig or battery.
E-Cig Explosion Lawsuits
In 2015, a California woman was awarded nearly $2 million in damages for the severe burns she sustained after a charging e-cig unexpectedly exploded, spilling chemicals across her lap. Notably, the state jury that awarded her the damages held three different companies, the e-cig’s manufacturer, its wholesaler and a retail shop, accountable for her injuries. It was the first lawsuit to be filed in America for injuries caused by an exploding e-cig, according to the LA Times. It won’t be the last.
Today, more injured consumers are hoping to win compensation and hold the e-cigarette industry accountable by filing electronic cigarette explosion lawsuits. At Banville Law, we believe vapers deserve quality products they can trust. The FDA’s new regulations are a start, but for consumers who have already been hurt, product liability lawsuits may be the best option to support a successful recovery.
Our Lawyers Can Help
Our attorneys are prepared to lead the way in holding negligent e-cigarette battery manufacturers responsible for the harm caused by their defective products. Accepting new cases nationwide, we’ve teamed up with the experienced product liability lawyers at New York’s Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman to provide legal assistance and support to injured vapers in all 50 states. Led by Partner Marc Freund, Esq., the attorneys at Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman are already actively representing multiple clients who are filing suit against e-cig companies and vape shops.
One, a 14-year-old boy, was blinded after an electronic cigarette exploded in his hand at a retail establishment. He says a store employee willingly demonstrated the device’s operation for him, despite New York laws prohibiting the marketing or sale of e-cigs to minors. Another suffered severe burns across her legs when an idle electronic cigarette battery exploded suddenly in her pocket.
If you were harmed by an exploding e-cig, contact our attorneys today to receive a free consultation. Learn more about your legal options, at no charge and no obligation.
E-Cig Explosion Lawsuit Resources