A North Carolina school system issued a safety warning to parents and students about a state-issued Chromebook that several thousand students are using for virtual classrooms. The warning came after one student’s laptop began sparking and smoking while he was participating in a Zoom class.
A mother told Winston-Salem’s WXII-TV that her son was using the Chromebook with headphones during the virtual class when the laptop’s battery started malfunctioning. The startled student ran out of the room, causing the laptop to fall to the floor, leaving burn marks on the carpet.
The incident prompted the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to email parents, warning them that the Chromebooks should not be left plugged in and unsupervised, especially overnight. Chromebooks, like other laptops and other consumer electronics, are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are prone to overheat, catch fire, and even explode if they have a manufacturing flaw or are damaged in any way.
“Also, it is best to always use the devices on surfaces that allow for proper ventilation like a desk or table,” the school system’s email said. “Prolonged charging and limited ventilation can damage the battery, the operating systems and cause the machine to shut down completely.”
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has issued about 40,000 Chromebooks to students so they can attend class virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said this is the first incident of a Chromebook’s lithium-ion battery catching fire.
Last year, a student’s Chromebook started smoldering in a third-grade classroom in Lewisville, North Carolina, also a part of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. The teacher evacuated the classroom and used a fire extinguisher to douse the burning laptop.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), deaths, injuries and property damage caused by incidents involving consumer products cost more than $700 billion each year. Most of these injuries could be avoided if the distributor or manufacturer of these products simply took additional measures to ensure the safety of its products.
Beasley Allen is currently investigating cases involving severe injuries caused by lithium-ion batteries, including fires and exploding devices similar to the one highlighted in this story. We also are investigating serious injuries caused by e-cigarette devices and exploding e-cigarette batteries. These explosions have been linked to faulty defective lithium-ion batteries and insufficient warnings for users. In particular, e-cigarette devices have been aggressively marketed and sold in stores throughout the United States with few regulations to ensure their safety. Contact William Sutton in our Toxic Torts Section to discuss your claim.