When a Nevada teen showed up at a Salt Lake City emergency room with severe facial injuries caused by an e-cigarette explosion, surgeons were surprised by the extent of the damage, likening his wounds to those caused by “high-speed motor vehicle crashes” and “a close-range gunshot wound.”
The 17-year-old was taken to Primary Children’s Hospital in Utah’s capital in March of last year, but details of his case were only recently published by The New England Journal of Medicine with the intent of raising awareness about the dangers e-cigarettes pose.
According to The Washington Post, The teen’s “entire jaw was cracked and a chunk of the bone had been completely shattered.” The e-cigarette explosion also blew out several of his teeth and blasted a hole in his chin.
“At that point, we had no idea that [e-cigarettes] could cause such a substantial injury,” Dr. Katie W. Russell, a pediatric surgeon who treated the teen, told The Washington Post. “It takes a serious amount of force to break your jaw and to break it in the way that he did.”
The mother of the teen, whom she identified as Austin, said she bought the e-cigarette for her son because he wanted to quit smoking. She was concerned about him using an e-cigarette because of the news she had heard of the devices exploding, but he assured her the model he wanted, a VGOD, was safe.
Not long after, on March 26, 2018, the teen’s mother Kailani Burton and her husband heard a loud popping sound coming from her son’s bedroom. Her son burst into the room in a panic, screaming “It blew up! It blew up!”
Wrapping the boy’s face in a towel, they drove to the hospital in their town of Ely, Nevada, about 240 miles north of Las Vegas. Hospital staff told her they were unequipped to deal with his injuries and that she would have to take him to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, hundreds of miles to the north.
After a painful five-hour drive, they arrived at the hospital. Surgeons who treated Austin were shocked to see that that “a two-centimeter piece of his jaw was just blown to pieces.”
Austin had to undergo two surgeries to repair his damaged face. In one surgery, surgeons fitted his mandible with titanium plates to stabilize it. In the second surgery, doctors mended his facial lacerations and burns.
A year later, Ms. Burton told The Washington Post that her son is now “doing really good” and “I thought he could’ve been dead,” she said. “I could’ve lost him.”
Just between 2015 and 2017 there have been at least 2,035 e-cigarette explosions causing burn and blast injuries and property damage and likely as many or more since then.
In a July 2017 report on e-cigarette malfunctions, the U.S. Fire Administration report blamed the injuries and fires on the lithium-ion batteries that power the devices, saying they “are not a safe source of energy for these devices. 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 agency reported.
Lithium-ion batteries pack a tremendous amount of power. When damaged, poorly made, or overheated lithium batteries suddenly release all that energy, it can turn an e-cigarette into a pipe bomb.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, severe e-cigarette injuries are caused when the devices explode “in the victim’s mouth, in very close proximity to their face, on in a pocket. This inherent intimacy with the device is what makes the e-cigarette hazard unique among consumer products. No other consumer product that is typically used so close to the human body contains the lithium-ion battery that is the root cause of the incidents,” the agency said in its report.
We are currently investigating cases involving severe injuries caused by exploding e-cigarette devices and exploding e-cigarette batteries. With few regulations to ensure their safety, e-cigarette devices have been aggressively marketed and sold in stores throughout the United States. Contact William Sutton in our Toxic Torts Section to discuss your claim.