Over the last few years, there have been countless news stories about lithium-ion batteries and the role they play in causing products to combust. Hoverboards, Samsung phones, laptops, and now e-cigarettes: all these explosions seem to come back to the batteries in the devices.
It is not necessarily that all lithium-ion batteries are dangerous; we use them in almost everything, from car lock fobs to hearing aids to solar power storage. The problem appears to be a particular type of battery – the 18650 lithium-ion battery, which is used most often in electronic cigarettes and vape pens.
Why is the 18650 lithium-ion battery so dangerous?
The short answer is, because is gets overloaded with power and this causes it to explode.
The explanation for why this happens is significantly longer and more complicated, relating to charging capacity and the damage done to the electrodes: you can find an excellent, if highly technical, explanation for that here, from a manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.
Furthermore, because so many products use these batteries, the market has been saturated with faulty, defective products. These defective 18650 batteries are not strong enough to hold the power that comes from charging them. As a result, their internal pressure increases to dangerous levels, which in turn can cause them to short circuit, overheat, become deformed, and eventually (potentially) explode.
Why doesn’t the 18650 battery have some kind of safety switch to prevent explosions?
It does; this kind of safety equipment is standard. However, as the manufacturer explains, “when the safety valve is opened, chemical substances leaked into the battery will react with oxygen in the air under high-temperature conditions, and there is still the possibility of fire.” To combat this problem, “some 18650 batteries are now equipped with protection board, with overcharge and over-discharge and short circuit protection and other functions.”
However, not all batteries have this added lawyer of protection, and batteries that are mass produced overseas, in facilities that are not held to the same standards as U.S. manufacturing facilities, still pose a definitive fire and explosion risk.
Charging 18650 e-cig batteries may also put vape users at risk
People who use e-cigs, vape pens, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) have multiple options, but most systems use that rechargeable 18650 battery. They are especially popular for “mechanical mods” – those large tank systems that don’t look anything at all like a cigarette, but can produce a lot of vapor. These systems lack the “internal safety circuitry” that other systems have and require the batteries to be removed in order to charge them. As NBC News explains, “doing so can put users at risk. That’s because the act of taking 18650s in and out of vaping devices or chargers can damage the cell’s insulating wrapper, compromising the safety of the battery.”
In other words, charging an e-cig battery can cause it to explode, even when the battery itself is not defective.
What about other systems and pens, like JUUL? Are they using “bad” batteries, too?
Not necessarily. Systems like JUUL are closed. The battery remains within the device at all times. This does not mean that a closed system cannot or will not explode, but the risk of explosion increases for vapers who use systems where the batteries must be removed. (For the record, JUUL does not use 18650 batteries.)
NBC News lists the following tips to reduce the risk of explosion:
- “Never use a battery that has been damaged, or exposed to extreme temperatures.
- Do not store 18650 batteries in pockets or bags. Always use a protective case, sold in most vape shops, for storage.
- Do not leave batteries on a charger longer than necessary.
- Do not get batteries wet.
- Move away from the device quickly if you feel it getting abnormally warm.
- Do not block ventilation holes on the device.”
What should I do if my vape pen exploded and I sustained an injury?
The most important thing is to seek medical attention. Exploding ENDS have led to serious, life-altering injuries such as extensive soft tissue damage and burns, loss of teeth and bone fracturing, damage to the eyes, and chemical burns. Some victims have needed skin grafts and plastic surgery.
If your exploding e-cigarette had a faulty battery, or was defective in some way – and it is safe to assume that any ENDS product that explodes during use or charging is, indeed, defective – you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit to recoup damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. You may choose to file an individual lawsuit or to join a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer, depending on the exact circumstances of your case and your injuries.
McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC has a record for handling complex consumer product and injury claims on behalf of individuals and on behalf of class members. The firm is currently pursuing litigation in defective e-cig claims in South Carolina and nationwide. If you would like to schedule a free consultation with one of our injury attorneys, please call 864-651-9295 or fill out our contact form.