Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions

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In October of 2014, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a report (PDF) that warned about the e-cigarette explosion risks, which have caused dozens of burns, fires or other problems between 2009 and August 2014.

These popular devices have now become readily accessible to the public and can be bought at almost any corner store, gas station, or mall. The e-cigarette, which is also known as a personal vaporizer (PV) or electronic nicotine delivery system, is a battery-powered device that allows users to smoke without many of the hazards of regular cigarettes. The vaporizers work by heating small amounts of tobacco and releasing a heated vapor. However, despite their widespread popularity, there are still safety and health concerns.

As noted, these e-cigarettes can explode due to a variety of reasons. If you have been injured because an e-cigarette has exploded or burned you, then this blog post will examine how you may potentially prove your case, what defenses the e-cigarette manufacturer might set forth, and what damages you may be entitled to recover. For further questions on whether you have a case, call a Philadelphia product liability lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm.

How to Prove an E-Cigarette Explosion Case?

When a product injures a person in Pennsylvania, the injured party will often turn to the law to help them recover for their injuries and losses. Pennsylvania shares many of the same laws as states across the country when it comes to allocating liability for a defective product.

Under Pennsylvania product liability law, a plaintiff can proceed against a manufacturer, seller, or distributor of an allegedly defective product on a theory of strict liability under Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that

  • One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if:
    • the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and
    • it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.
  • (2) The rule stated in Subsection (1) applies although (a) the seller has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his product, and (b) the user or consumer has not bought the product from or entered into any contractual relation with the seller.

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Under section 402A, the seller of a product that is in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the ultimate user or consumer will be liable to that user or consumer if the product causes personal injury or property damage to the user or consumer, so long as the seller is engaged in the business of selling that product and the product reaches the consumer in substantially the same condition in which it is sold. The Restatement (Second) imposes a standard of strict liability on the seller, meaning that liability may be imposed regardless of whether the seller has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his product, and regardless of whether the user or consumer has bought the product from or entered into any contractual relation with the seller. In other words, neither fault on the part of the seller nor privity of contract between the user or consumer and the seller are required in order for a plaintiff to proceed against the seller of an allegedly defective product on a theory of strict liability under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

In order to prevail on a claim of strict liability against the seller of a defective product for injuries caused by that product, a plaintiff’s prima facie case under section 402A requires a showing that:

  1. The product was defective;
  2. That the defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer’s hands; and
  3. That the defect was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Under the first prong of the plaintiff’s prima facie case, the plaintiff can show that the product was defective by proving that it was defectively manufactured, that it was defectively designed, or that it contained inadequate or improper warnings and/or instructions.

Does an E-Cigarette Manufacturer Have any Defenses?

It can be daunting dealing with a major manufacturer. Most major corporations and manufacturers have sophisticated legal teams who will employ a variety of tactics to make sure that you and your claim go away. However, while a manufacturer may employ scare tactics there are actual legal defenses that they can employ.

  • Unintended Use, Unintended Users, and Misuse – In recent decisions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that a defendant may only be strictly liable for injuries caused by a product defect if the consumer was an intended user who was using the product for its intended use. If a plaintiff was misusing a product, even if that misuse was foreseeable, the plaintiff cannot recover under strict liability. The court, however, has recognized a narrow exception where a manufacturer could have foreseen that consumers would alter a product (not merely misuse it) by, for instance, removing a safety device.
  • Open and Obvious Dangers – Under Pennsylvania law, a manufacturer has no duty to warn about open and obvious dangers.  This doctrine is sometimes stated as: Manufacturers have no duty to warn of dangers which are common, for instance, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has found that a liquor manufacturer has no duty to warn of the dangers of drinking and driving.

The Pennsylvania courts have also adopted Comment (i) to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A. According to this comment, a defendant can only be liable in strict liability if a product is:

Dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics. Good whiskey is not unreasonably dangerous merely because it will make some people drunk, and is especially dangerous to alcoholics; but bad whiskey, containing a dangerous amount of fusel oil, is unreasonably dangerous. Good tobacco is not unreasonably dangerous merely because the effects of smoking may be harmful, but tobacco containing something like marijuana may be unreasonably dangerous.

e-cig personal injury

Thus, if the dangers of a product are common knowledge, the product is not deemed to be unreasonably dangerous and therefore not defective. Under such circumstances, a strict liability claim cannot be maintained.

How Much Money Can I Receive from an Electronic Cigarette Explosion?

When you have been injured in an accident you often will incur medical bills, miss time from work, and may additionally incur other expenses related to your accident. When you have been injured because of an e-cigarette you can generally recover the following:

  • Economic losses – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recognized the economic loss rule, and lower Pennsylvania courts have followed this rule in products liability cases. Thus, where a product malfunctions, a plaintiff is barred from suing in tort, whether the theory is negligence or strict liability if the malfunction only damages the product itself. In such cases, a plaintiff’s remedy properly lies in contracts, rather than in torts.

A plaintiff may still recover damages in tort if a malfunctioning product damages other property or causes physical injuries. In Tennis v. Ford Motor Co., the plaintiffs alleged that a product defect in a vehicle manufactured by the defendant caused a fire. This fire spread to, and damaged, other property beside the vehicle. Thus, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the economic loss rule.

  • Emotional distress – Traditionally, Pennsylvania courts adhered to the impact rule for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Under this rule, a plaintiff could only recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress if the plaintiff’s distress was the result of a physical impact caused by the defendant.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court may no longer require proof of physical impact for the recovery of emotional distress damages in some negligence cases, but the Court still requires such proof in cases of strict products liability.

  • Punitive damages – Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not have a statute that caps, or otherwise regulates, awards of punitive damages, either in product liability cases specifically, or in all cases generally. Punitive damage awards are thus primarily regulated by the common law. In regulating such damages, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has followed the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 Under the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2),

Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others. In assessing punitive damages, the trier of fact can properly consider the character of the defendant’s act, the nature, and extent of the harm to the plaintiff that the defendant caused or intended to cause and the wealth of the defendant.

Thus, an award of punitive damages is appropriate in Pennsylvania only if the defendant acted with an evil motive or with reckless indifference.

If punitive damages are deemed appropriate, a jury should weigh three factors in order to arrive at a number of damages. These factors, taken from the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2), are: (1) the character of the defendant’s act; (2) the extent and nature of the harm that the defendant caused or intended to cause to the plaintiff; and (3) the defendant’s wealth.

Have You Been Injured By An Electronic Cigarette? Contact A Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney Today

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. 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.

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