A Washington woman who suffered severe burns and disfigurement when her e-cigarette exploded in her pocket has filed a lawsuit against the companies that brought the device to market, alleging they failed to adequately warn consumers about the dangerous product.

The incident happened in April 2017 when Stephanie Galdarisi was in her car with her 3-year-old daughter and a friend. They had just stopped for ice cream and were about to get back in the vehicle. Ms. Galdarisi locked her SMOK e-cigarette and put it in her pocket.

According to The News Tribune of Tacoma, as they started to drive off, Ms. Galdarisi heard a “whirring sound” and a “pop.”

Quoting the lawsuit, the paper reports, “… the e-cigarette exploded and caught fire, engulfing Plaintiff Galdarisi in flames. Panicked and confused, Plaintiff lifted herself from the seat and tried to slap the burning e-cigarette and battery away. The device fell under her lap and flames continued to shoot out, burning the underside of her thighs.”

Painful, disfiguring and disabling

Her friend was able to put the vehicle in park and unbuckle Ms. Galdrisi’s seatbelt so she could get out of the car. But like so many others injured by exploding e-cigarettes, by the time Ms. Galadrisi could rid herself of the device, she already suffered excruciating burn and blast injuries.

Fortunately, her daughter and her friend were not injured in the explosion, but Ms. Galadrisi was taken to Harborview Medical Center where she spent the next 16 days undergoing treatments for extensive burn injuries. She underwent follow-up treatments and will require surgery in the future for her scars. The lawsuit describes the burn injuries as painful, disfiguring and disabling, according to The News Tribune.

Ms. Galadrisi filed her lawsuit against the companies she alleges were involved in the design, manufacture, distribution and sale of the SMOK e-cigarette and the Samsung lithium-ion battery used to power it.

Her lawyer told The News Tribune he has “grown really suspicious” of e-cigarettes and will no longer allow friends who use them to bring them into his house or car.

“There just doesn’t seem to be any way to predict when they are going to explode, and when they do explode, the consequences can be horrific.”

E-cigarette explosions: more common than many think

E-cigarette explosions, which are often called “thermal runaways” in scientific literature, emit flames that burn at temperatures of about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit/1,000 degrees Celsius. As the lithium battery burns, it releases highly flammable and toxic gases. Lithium battery fires can also burn for long periods of time and be extremely difficult to extinguish. The cylindrical shape of many e-cigarette devices combined with the release of pressure from a damaged lithium battery can make them behave like missiles or pipe bombs.

Last year, researchers in Virginia and Texas determined that e-cigarette explosions are far more common than previously thought. Analyzing data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the researchers estimated U.S. hospitals treated 2,035 patients for burn injuries related to e-cigarette explosions between 2015 and 2017.

That number is more than 15 times higher than the 130 annual e-cigarette explosion injuries reported by the U.S. Fire Administration in 2017. E-cigarette explosions have also resulted in at least two deaths in the U.S.

“Not necessarily safer”

In February, Callie Thompson, an assistant professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, told the Daily Beast that injuries associated with exploding e-cigarettes, such as third-degree burns, tooth loss, and tissue damage, are becoming increasingly common.

Dr. Thompson, who alone has treated 30 patients for e-cigarette explosion injuries, told the Daily Beast:

“All of these people were using these e-cigarette devices because they thought they were safer. That to me is what really sticks out: These were marketed as a very healthy, low-risk way to stop smoking. And without the regulation on the devices, they’re not necessarily safer.”

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.

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