E-Cigarette Explosion Lawsuits
A growing number of consumers who have been seriously injured by exploding e-cigarettes are filing lawsuits around the country. Though these alternative smoking devices have been touted as being safer than regular cigarettes, “vapers” have suffered from severe burns and even amputations when using them. Several studies have also revealed that though these products may lack the tar that regular cigarettes have, they contain other potentially dangerous chemicals linked to long-term health problems.
So concerning are these products and their increasing use by Americans, including adolescents, that on May 5, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a new rule extending its authority to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Prior to this rule, e-cigarettes could be sold without review of their ingredients, manufacturing methods, or their potential safety risks. Under the new rule, the FDA has the same authority they have with traditional cigarettes to ensure these products have the proper health warnings and to restrict sales to minors. The rule went into effect on August 8, 2016.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
An e-cigarette, a shortened term for electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that vaporizes nicotine to be inhaled. Also called a “vaporizer cigarette,” the device is tube-shaped with refillable cartridges that contain a nicotine solution. When the user sucks on the mouthpiece, a heating element vaporizes the solution to create an aerosol that can be drawn into the lungs. This process is often called “vaping.”
Sold in the U.S. since 2007, E-cigarettes also include e-pens, e-pipes, e-hookah, and e-cigars, all known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). The FDA now regulates them all under the new ruling.
What’s in an E-Cigarette?
E-cigarettes and other similar devices have been called “smoke-free” and “tobacco-free” because they don’t contain tobacco. Whereas traditional cigarettes expose the user to a number of harmful chemical compounds created by burning tobacco and creating tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes burn only the liquid nicotine solution contained in the cartridge. This was one of the main benefits used by the manufacturers to win consumers over to their products.
The liquid solution used in e-cigarettes and other ENDS contains mostly nicotine. Other ingredients form the base and sometimes add color or flavor. Though manufacturers advertised these solutions as being completely safe, recent studies have raised concerns about some of the other chemicals found in them.
One of the most dangerous of these is diacetyl, a flavoring chemical that’s been linked to cases of severe respiratory disease known as “popcorn lung“. A 2016 study published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, for instance, found diacetyl above the laboratory limit of detection in 39 of the 51 flavors tested. The researchers recommended “urgent action” to evaluate exposure to this dangerous chemical via flavored e-cigarettes.
An earlier study in Circulation found a number of other issues in e-cigarette solutions. Among them is their ability to deliver high levels of nanoparticles that can trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, and heart disease.
In a 2015 letter to the editor published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers noted that e-cigarette liquids, which are usually made up of propylene glycol, glycerol, or both, plus nicotine and flavoring chemicals, can also contain by-products like cancer-causing formaldehyde that are formed when the solution is vaporized.
The researchers also noted that formaldehyde is “a known degradation product of propylene glycol,” and added that in many of the aerosol samples they studied from “vaped” cigarettes, more than two percent of the total solvent molecules had been converted to formaldehyde-releasing agents, “reaching concentrations higher than concentrations of nicotine.”
What Causes E-Cigarette Explosions?
In addition to concerns about the chemicals in e-cigarette nicotine solutions, there have been an increasing number of complaints concerning e-cigarette explosions. In a U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2014 report on e-cigarette fires and explosions, officials noted that between 2009 and 2014, there were 25 separate incidents of explosions and fires involving e-cigarettes. Those explosions caused nine injuries, two of them including serious burns. There were likely additional incidents that were not reported, and there have been several more since.
ECigOne.com reports that at least 214 e-cigarette explosions have been reported in the media and in forums as of January 2017. In their analysis, they found that 57 occurred during use, 79 during charging, and 44 during transport or storage or under unknown circumstances. A total of 137 of those incidences resulted in consumers suffering personal injuries or death.
Most of the explosions occurred while the batteries were charging, though some did occur during use. FEMA noted that “the shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make them more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries to behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails.” Media reports of the explosions typically describe them as occurring suddenly, with a flash of light, a loud noise, flames, and sometimes the ejection of the battery and other parts of the device.
In many instances, researchers were able to trace the cause of the explosion to the battery charger. Using an alternate charger that was not sold with the device was frequently linked to an explosion. FEMA stated that many e-cigarettes have a USB port for connecting to the power adapter and that this port allows users to connect to other power adapters not provided by the manufacturer. Since USB ports can vary in voltage and current, some of these other adapters may not be safe, subjecting the battery to a higher-then-expected current.
Consumers were left in the dark about this risk, however, as FEMA stated: “Without consulting the technical specifications for the USB power source, it is difficult or impossible for a consumer to determine the power supplied by any particular USB port and even more difficult to determine whether it is safe to use with a particular e-cigarette.”
Other issues that may cause e-cigarette explosions include overheating of the heating element, and lithium-ion battery failure. Most e-cigarettes have built-in circuits to protect against overheating, but there is currently no independent-study-based assurance that these are performing as expected.
Lithium-ion batteries are known to occasionally fail in many products, including smartphones and laptops, but the failure is particularly dangerous in e-cigarettes because of the cylindrical shape. It causes a quick build-up of pressure, which results in the explosion and “shooting across the room” phenomenon. In other products, the explosions are generally contained inside rigid plastic cases.
Types of Injuries Caused by E-Cigarette Explosions
While consumers wait on manufacturers to make design upgrades that would limit the risk of explosion, injuries continue to occur. In 2015, scientists published a case study of a 30-year old man whose e-cigarette exploded while in his pants pocket. He suffered partial thickness burns to his right leg.
Several other incidents of explosions have been reported in the media. In August 2014, a 62-year-old man allegedly died in Scotland after his e-cigarette exploded and ignited oxygen equipment he was using. In February 2015, a man suffered serious injuries to his face when his e-cigarette exploded. Authorities stated that materials from the device cut his face and shattered a glass display inside the store where he was located.
Later that same year, the New York Daily News reported that a 21-year-old south Florida man was severely injured when his e-cigarette allegedly blew up in his face and actually shot down his throat. He suffered burns to his face and neck, experienced serious respiratory distress, and was rushed to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma for recovery.
In May 2016, NBC News reported on a man who lost his left eye when an e-cigarette allegedly exploded next to him, “rocketing debris into his head.” The victim described the incident as feeling like he had been “hit with a baseball bat or hockey stick.” Pieces of shrapnel from the device were left in his eyeball.
Other types of injuries linked to e-cigarette explosions include:
- Severe burns to face, neck, hands, and other areas of the body
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Injuries to the tongue and mouth
- Severe chemical burns
- Damage to hands and fingers, including amputations
- Eye damage and potential vision loss
- Lung damage and respiratory problems
- Tooth damage and tooth loss
- Serious injury leading to death
These and other injuries often require multiple medical treatments and extensive care.
E-Cigarette Explosion Lawsuits
The attorneys at Chaffin Luhana are actively investigating potential e-cigarette explosion lawsuits. Consumers who have used these products and then suffered serious injuries because of explosions or other related product defects may be able to recover damages in an e-cigarette personal injury lawsuit.
Some lawsuits against these device manufacturers have already been effective. In 2015, for example, a jury awarded a California woman $1.9 million for the burn injuries and subsequent scarring she sustained because of an exploding e-cigarette. Other similar lawsuits are pending in New York, Florida, and California.
Plaintiffs allege false advertising, lack of adequate risk warnings, and lack of appropriate pre-market clinical trials. Chaffin Luhana provides consultations and case evaluations to help consumers determine whether they may be eligible to file a case today. Call 1-888-316-2311 if you or a loved one have been injured by an e-cigarette.