Most people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices likely have heard accounts of e-cigarette battery explosions and fires causing serious burn injuries that often lead to lengthy hospital stays and even longer, painful recoveries. Yet these incidents continue to occur. One of the most recently reported e-cigarette battery explosions occurred on Nov. 1 when a UK man sustained severe burns to his right hand and leg.
Dan Vowles, 46, of Nottingham, England, told Nottinghamshire Live that he was wrapping up his shift at work and preparing to head home when he felt heat emanating from his right pants pocket where he kept his e-cigarette and some spare batteries.
Mr. Vowles reached into his pocket figuring his e-cigarette had become activated. At that moment, there was a spark. Then a flash. He was able to rip a glowing red battery from his pocket and throw it away from him, but not before his pants pocket became engulfed in flames.
An image of Mr. Vowles’ mangled, burned hand published by Nottinghamshire Live shows the horrific injuries that one small e-cigarette battery can cause.
“At the time I didn’t think my leg was injured as much as it was, I thought my hand was more significantly injured,” he told Nottinghamshire Live. “But as time has gone on, I think I had just gone into shock and it had numbed everything.”
Mr. Vowles’ coworkers took him to the hospital. He was then transferred to the burn care unit at a Nottingham University Hospital.
What went wrong?
Current reports don’t say what could have caused Mr. Vowle’s e-cigarette battery explosion. Mr. Vowles told Nottingham Live that while he doesn’t know why the battery malfunctioned, he suspects it probably had a fault or was not “up to standard.”
E-cigarettes and most other vaping devices use small but potent lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged over and over again. These batteries are made of lithium-ion cells that pack a lot of power for their small size. Fundamentally, they are the same batteries used to power electric cars, albeit much smaller.
The energy contained in fully charged lithium-ion batteries can be released inadvertently if the battery is substandard, as Mr. Vowles’ said. This was the case with batteries that powered Samsung’s notorious Galaxy Note 7 smartphones a few years ago. The manufacturing flaws in those batteries were serious enough to prompt Samsung to recall all Note 7 phones and disable their functionality less than four months after the phones made their much-anticipated global debut. In that short period of time, the Note 7 caused numerous fires and explosions, leading authorities in several countries to ban their use.
Damaged lithium-ion batteries
E-cigarette battery explosion can also be caused when well-made lithium-ion batteries become damaged. Anyone who uses an e-cigarette or other vaping device should properly discard a lithium-ion battery that shows any sign of damage.
Carrying spare lithium-ion batteries
Like many e-cigarette users, Mr. Vowles’ carried extra batteries with him to use when one battery runs out of power. Loose batteries can short-circuit and ignite when they come into contact with other batteries or any other metal objects, such as coins, that are commonly carried in the pocket.
E-cigarette battery explosions can also occur when the wrong type of batteries are used to power a device or the batteries are charged with an incompatible charger. In these cases, the batteries could release too much current during use or become overcharged and overheated during charging.
Mr. Vowles told Nottingham Live that he “wouldn’t advise anybody to carry batteries in their pocket.” That’s sound advice considering men account for most e-cigarette injuries, partly because they typically stash their e-cigarette in their pants pocket as opposed to a purse.
Chris Emmott, manager of the Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service, said that Mr. Vowles’ accident “is a reminder of the dangers vapes and vape batteries can cause.”
U.S. Warnings on e-cigarette fires
In 2016, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) released a report on e-cigarette fires and explosions. In it, the agency noted “the combination of an electronic cigarette and a lithium-ion battery is a new and unique hazard. There is no analogy among consumer products to the risk of a severe, acute injury presented by an e-cigarette.”
The USFA also observed that “the shape and construction of electronic cigarettes can make them (more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries) behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails.”
The report notes that most e-cigarette fires and explosions happen when the device is either in a pocket or actively being used. At the time, the USAF warned that the number of incidents and injuries likely would continue to increase.
Exploding devices litigation
Beasley Allen is currently investigating cases involving severe injuries caused by lithium-ion batteries, including 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.