A Florida resident was awarded more than $15 million in damages after an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket.
Let’s take a look at what happened and whether e-cigarette battery explosions are something you should be worried about.
About the lawsuit: Manuel Ortega v. Vapor Life LLC
Manuel Ortego filed a lawsuit against Vapor Life LLC after his e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket, causing third-degree burns to his lower extremities. Although Shenzhen Battery Company manufactured the battery, they weren’t named as a defendant.
The lawsuit alleged that Manuel had been using the Vapor Life e-cigarette for less than a month before it suddenly blew up in his pocket. The lawsuit further alleged that the battery lacked proper thermal protection due to a design flaw.
On October 19, 2021, a South Florida jury awarded Manuel $21,000 to compensate him for the medical expenses associated with his burn injuries.
In addition, the jury awarded Manuel $15 million for his pain and suffering.
The term “pain and suffering” refers to the pain, discomfort, anguish, inconvenience, and emotional trauma that’s caused by an injury. Pain and suffering damages are considered “non-economic damages.”
Vapor Life LLC is no longer an active company, so it remains to be seen whether Manuel will actually be able to recover the money he was awarded.
How common are e-cigarette burn injuries?
E-cigarettes were invented in 2003 by a Chinese pharmacist. By 2010, several brands were available in the United States market.
Generally speaking, e-cigarettes have 4 components:
- A battery
- A reservoir for holding the nicotine-containing solution
- A heating element
- A mouthpiece
The battery enables the heating element to heat the nicotine-containing solution into an aerosol, which is then inhaled through the mouthpiece.
The initial public concern about e-cigarettes focused on the potentially harmful chemicals involved. However, more recently, the public has grown concerned about the possibility of harm caused by exploding e-cigarettes.
E-cigarette explosions, while rare, are probably more common than you think.
Although the cause of e-cigarette explosions varies, overheating of the battery (“thermal runaway”) is believed to be the most common cause. Thermal runaway is also responsible for many of the exploding smartphones and exploding Tesla batteries that have been in the news.
Tips for using e-cigarettes safely
Although we certainly can’t guarantee you won’t be injured by an e-cigarette, there are some steps you can take to decrease the odds of a battery explosion or fire:
- Charge e-cigarettes only with the charger they come with
- Don't leave e-cigarettes charging overnight
- If batteries start to get hot, discard them
- Don’t use the e-cigarette while the battery is charging
- Don’t modify e-cigarette products in any way
- Don’t use batteries if damaged, leaking, or wet, and dispose of them appropriately (via local refuse schemes)
- Don’t leave e-cigarettes plugged in once fully charged
Can you recover damages if you’re injured by an e-cigarette?
If you’ve been injured by an e-cigarette, there’s a good chance you can recover damages. The type of lawsuit filed by e-cigarette burn victims is typically a product liability lawsuit.
The law recognizes 3 types of defects that can lead to a product liability claim:
- Manufacturing defect. A defectively manufactured product is one that—though properly designed—left the manufacturer in a condition other than intended.
- Design defect. A product is defectively designed if it failed to perform as safely as a reasonable person would expect, even when used as intended (or at least in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable).
- Failure to warn. Manufacturers have a duty to warn users of the dangers that can be reasonably anticipated and that are inherent in their products.
Manuel Ortego’s lawsuit against Vapor Life LLC is not the only e-cigarette explosion lawsuit that has been filed.
In 2018, a Florida man died when his e-cigarette exploded. Tallmadge D’Elia, 38 years old, was killed when an e-cigarette manufactured by Smok-E Mountain exploded. A projectile from the e-cigarette struck Tallmadge in the head, causing his death. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed but has not yet been resolved.
In 2019, a Florida court awarded more than $2 million to a Florida man who was injured when his e-cigarette exploded in his mouth. The man, who sued the company that sold the lithium-ion battery used in the e-cigarette, was awarded $48,000 for medical expenses and $2 million for his pain and suffering.