Many people have considered switching or have actually made the switch from traditional cigarettes that function via combustion, to electronic cigarettes that work by vaporizing an e-juice that may contain nicotine. People have many reasons for switching. For some, it is the elimination of the cigarette odor. For others, while the science is not fully developed, they may perceive “vaping” as being healthier than smoking. In any case, people choose to use e-cigarette devices because they believe that the devices are, at least, relatively safe and unlikely to cause serious injury in the short-term.
Unfortunately, this belief may prove to be less well founded than consumers and others familiar with the products believe. The U.S. Fire Administration has issued warnings regarding the unique nature of the risk presented by lithium-ion battery failures in these devices. Now, a recently reported personal injury action for injuries caused by a defective e-cigarette device tried in California offers a window into not only the risks of the devices, but also the life-altering consequences an e-cigarette malfunction can cause.
E-Cigarette Explodes in Vehicle Causing Severe Injuries
According to reports regarding Ries v. VAPCIGS, No. RIC 1306769 (Cal. Super Ct. Riverside Cnty. Sept. 30, 2015), the plaintiff purchased an e-cigarette starter kit from a local retail store. The starter kit contained the essential parts and items that a new e-cigarette user would need to get started. The kit contained an e-cigarette vaporizing device, a lithium ion battery for the device, and a USB charger. Since the items were sold and packaged together one would believe that they were compatible and unlikely to malfunction. Unfortunately this was not the case.
Apparently only several days later, the plaintiff decided that she wanted to charge the device’s battery using the provided USB charging cable. She plugged the cable into her car USB port charger and connected the device so that it began charging. Reportedly, the battery began to drip an unknown liquid and the car was soon filled with a burning, chemical odor. The battery then, just several seconds later, exploded violently in the vehicle. The battery metal shrapnel throughout the car and spewed burning chemicals that set the plaintiff’s dress and passenger seat ablaze. Reiss apparently attempted to jump from the moving vehicle, but was stopped by her husband. He managed to get the fire under control by using a drink that was in the car.
What Damages did the Personal Injury Victim Suffer?
The plaintiff suffered significant damage to her legs, buttocks, and hands. She was rushed to the hospital by her husband where it was discovered that she had suffered serious second-degree burns to these body parts. The plaintiff received treatment for roughly a month to treat these injuries, but was nevertheless left with significant scarring.
Aside from the physical injuries, the plaintiff stated that she suffered severe emotional distress. This claim is understandable and based in fact. The plaintiff was placed in a burning, out-of-control vehicle traveling at 65 miles per an hour because of the battery malfunction and explosion. The plaintiff was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This condition has prevented her from pursuing her normal activities which included significant amounts of philanthropy in the form of mission trip[s and charity work. Furthermore, the plaintiff was unable to engage in the outdoor activities that she used to frequently enjoy.
How did the Jury Decide in the Product Liability injury Trial?
While the defendants were poised to raise the defense that the plaintiff had used the charger in a port that output 5 volts when the battery was only designed to be charged at less than 4.2 volts. However, prior to proceedings beginning, the defendants admitted liability on the grounds that the product was defective due to a failure to warn regarding a foreseeable risk. The trial proceeded solely on the damages issues.
The jury found that the physical and emotional damages inflicted on the plaintiff entitled the injured woman to just under $1.9 million in damages. $1.64 million of the damages are to compensate the pain and suffering already experienced by the injury victim. $215,000 was allotted compensate for future pain and suffering. $30,000 was assigned to compensate for future economic damages.
Have you Been Injured by an Electronic Cigarette?
While all matters are based on their own unique facts and circumstances, this matter shows that courts are increasingly receptive to injuries caused by defective lithium ion batteries in devices where sufficient charging instructions are not provided. However it is essential to note that this case was decided under California law. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania, the jury may choose to believe or disbelieve facts according to its perceptions of credibility. Thus, any damages in a particular action are wholly dependent on the particular individualized circumstances that are present.
If you or a loved one have suffered a serious injury due to a defective e-cigarette or an exploding lithium battery call the defective product and personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 246-9000.