In today’s digital computing world, lithium-ion batteries and similar battery technologies are essential to powering our devices. Without rechargeable battery technologies, individuals would essentially be transported back to the 1990s when single-use AA batteries were the primary means of powering electronic gadgets. For any individual who runs to charge their phone multiple times a day, the infeasibility of relying on disposable battery packs and the necessity of rechargeable batteries should immediately become clear.
However, the basic physics behind batteries means that relatively large amounts of energy are concentrated in a relatively small space. This means that when batteries have a design problem or internal defect there is a real and appreciable risk of an intense fire or explosion. According to a recent announcement by Samsung, at least 35 users of its new Note 7 have experienced a battery fire or explosion in the two weeks since the device’s release. Since the battery in the new Note 7 is not user-replaceable, affected devices will need to be replaced by Samsung. Hurt by an exploding phone or tablet and sustained a serious burn? Call a Philadelphia burn injury lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm.
Why Do Lithium Batteries Explode?
The essential component parts of any lithium-based battery include a cathode, an anode, and a lithium oxide. The cathode and the anode are separated by an electrolyte substrate and a porous material separator. When the battery is discharged and charged a physical and chemical reaction takes place. Under certain scenarios, this chemical reaction can fail and result in thermal runaway that causes a battery fire or explosion.
The first type of failure is generally associated with some type of design flaw involving the separator, electrolyte, or other physical aspects of the battery. This type of defect is “preferable” in the sense that they are easier to diagnose. However, as far as risk goes, they still present a serious risk.
The second type of defect typically responsible for lithium battery fires and explosions is significantly more difficult to pin down. This type of failure event generally requires some intervening condition or event to trigger the thermal runaway. Perhaps the battery was charged at high temperatures because it was left to charge under a pillow overnight. Or, perhaps, the phone and battery were impacted during charging process resulting in a fire or battery explosion. An internal defect can also contribute to making an occurrence of this type of failure event more likely.
Samsung Battery Plan for Note 7 Criticized by Consumer Reports Who Calls for Official Recall
While many reports have praised Samsung for its apparent decision to recall its new Note 7 tablet due to more than 30 reports of devices exploding or catching fire. However, upon closer examination, it does not appear that Samsung has actually announced a formal recall. Rather, on Friday, September 2, 2016, Samsung announced that it would stop selling its two-week-old Note 7 smartphone. Samsung also announced that it would voluntarily replace affected devices. However, Samsung did not make an official recall announcement.
Thus, the question that remains is what separates Samsung’s actions from an official recall? To start, if Samsung had announced a full recall of its smartphone, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) would have been involved. CPSC oversees recalls of dangerous products. When a product is recalled, CPSC makes it illegal for retailers to sell the defective product to consumers.
Here, there was no recall announcement. Furthermore, according to a Consumer Reports’ investigation, the Note 7 “phablet” with apparently defective battery cells was still being offered for sale at multiple retailers on the morning of Samsung’s announcement. Thus, according to these and other reports, it is clear that the product is not officially recalled.
However, the most troubling aspect of the situation is that potentially defective batteries are unknowingly being brought home by consumers in their brand new smartphone. While Samsung has stated that it, “will voluntarily replace their current devices with a new one over the coming weeks,” these efforts are highly dependent on consumer behavior. Consumers who hear that their device was “recalled” before they purchased it may assume that their phone is unaffected by the battery defect. These consumers are unlikely to seek the replacement device.
Due to the fact that Samsung has been particularly non-specific regarding the exact nature of the battery cell defect, it is unclear the extent of risk these devices currently present. Further use and degradation of the batteries may make the risk of a fire or explosion even more likely.
However, the continued sale of a phone potentially containing a defective battery is extremely concerning. Maria Rerecich, Consumer Reports director of electronics testing indicated that “Samsung should immediately initiate an official recall with the Consumer Product Safety Commission given the serious nature of the safety problem it identified with the Galaxy Note7. We are particularly concerned that phones continue to be available for sale today.” If the Note 7 design had included a user-replaceable battery, addressing the risk presented by these “faulty” batteries would have been significantly more straight-forward. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the automotive industry, concerns regarding aesthetics and marketability frequently predominate over functionality and other concerns.
Injured by a Defective Note 7 or an Exploding Lithium Battery? Contact a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer at The Reiff Law Firm
Lithium batteries are in a broad array of consumer products ranging from smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers to e-cigarettes and other devices. When these batteries have defects in their design or manufacturing process, the risk of a battery fire or explosion increases significantly. If you have suffered life-altering injuries due to a defective smartphone or exploding battery, call the exploding lithium-ion battery injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 246-9000 for a free and confidential consultation.