E-Cigarette Lawsuit Claims Exploding Device Set Man’s Leg On Fire

A New Jersey man has filed a lawsuit alleging that an exploding electronic cigarette in his pocket left him with severe and disfiguring burns to his leg. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed last month by William Barrese in New Jersey Superior Court, naming Gorilla Vapes, LG Chem, Ltd. and a number of unidentified individuals as defendants.

According to claims raised in the lawsuit, the cylindrical design of most e-cigarettes mean that when the lithium ion battery inside it explodes, it “shoots out like a bullet or rocket.”

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“On December 23, 2016, William Barrese was at his place of employment when suddenly his e-cigarette battery exploded in his left pant pocket, shooting flames down his pants, severely burning him,” the lawsuit explains. “William Barrese quickly realized that his leg was covered in black residue and his skin was severely charred. The explosion resulted in extensive burns on his lower extremity.”

The lawsuit indicates that Barrese was hospitalized and has had to consult a dermatologist about the burns and damage to his skin, but he is permanently scarred by the incident.

As e-cigs and vaping have increased in popularity in recent years, there have been a growing number of reports where the devices and their batteries exploded or caught on fire. Dozens of e-cigarette problems have been reported nationwide. The American Burn Association indicates several hundred injuries occurred in 2015 from e-cigarettes.

The FDA warns that the true rate of injuries is under reported because typically the incidents of e-cigarette injuries, burns and explosions are reported to federal agencies after media outlets publicize the incidents. Researchers from the FDA believe that many consumers do not report explosions or overheating incidents due to either lack of injury or interest to report.

Those that have been reported have included accounts of the devices exploding while recharging, while in people’s pockets and in some cases, while in use, resulting in severe hand and face injuries.

In a list of all of the media and federally recognized e-cigarette explosion injury reports last year by Ecigone.com, the website reported that 25% of problems identified occurred during use of the devices, and roughly 44% occurred during charging, with all incidents stemming from overheating or exploding lithium ion batteries.

Those findings appear to confirm the widespread belief that the explosions are being caused by the lithium-ion batteries used to power e-cigarettes, which may lack adequate overheating and power surge safeguards. According to the FDA, which recently took control of regulation over e-cigarettes and all tobacco products, many overheating reports and explosion are due to cheap lithium-ion batteries shipped from overseas that were not regulated.

Barrese notes in his lawsuit that those regulations are not yet in place, placing consumers who use the devices at risk of devices with faulty batteries made in China, which shipped more than 300 million e-cigarettes to the U.S. in 2015, the claim estimates.

“Many of these products are shipped from China and placed directly into the stream of commerce in the United States without any knowledge as to the composition, design, or safety of the products,” the lawsuit states. “Most United States’ distributors choose to import e-cigarettes from China because of the low cost and non-existent quality control.”

The devices have become so widely recognized as fire hazards that several government agencies have banned the products from boarding flights or fleet vehicles..

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned all forms of electronic smoking devices from checked baggage on aircrafts, and e-cigarette devices and batteries may not be charged aboard any aircraft. The rule was finalized by the agency following several recent reports of e-cigarettes catching on fire inside of checked luggage.


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