Over the past weekend a young girl was injured in yet another e-cigarette explosion. The vaping device burst into flames in the pocket of a nearby person on an adventure ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Caroline Saylor, 14, received first and second degree burns to her face, arm and leg when the flames “shot out” from the neighboring seat. Conflicting reports suggest the man and his friends ran off after it happened. Without access to the defective vaping device it is impossible to determine whether the product mechanism was defective or whether there was misuse by the user. In either event, this incident is further evidence of a consumer safety issue that is being flippantly dismissed by the profit-seeking e-cig industry.
Earlier in the year, Tom Kiklas of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association was quoted pinning part of the blame on vapers who use the wrong battery chargers. That perspective doesn’t take into account the multitude of after-market chargers being used for other devices, including laptop computers, phones, and cameras. Kiklas was also quoted as saying that the number of occurrences was insignificant.
It is suspected the e-cig explosions are related to lithium batteries in the devices. Just recently, Samsung voluntarily recalled millions of its Galaxy Note 7 phones because the lithium batteries were catching fire, causing injuries. Samsung proactively put consumer safety above its profits. We don’t see that happening in the vaping industry. The manufacturers are mostly silent—providing only vague, offhanded references to an insignificant number of injuries. Whether Caroline Saylor or her mother would agree with this “laissez-faire” corporate stance is questionable given Saylor’s current injuries and the ever-growing number of explosions being reported in the media.
The circumstances surrounding Saylor’s injuries provide a perfect example of the difficult issues faced by investigators in e-cig incendiary episodes. Unless the man who left the scene is found, no one can examine the vaping device to determine causation.
To prove an injury is caused by a product defect, investigators must be able to identify the following:
- The retail store or kiosk where the product or products were purchased;
- The distributor(s) that provided the product(s) to the retailer;
- The manufacturer(s) that sold the product to the distributor(s);
- The battery distributor(s) that sold the batteries to the manufacturer(s);
- The specific battery manufacturer(s); and,
- The manufacturer(s) of each of the components of the batteries.
There could be liability all along the chain of commerce and this makes the vaping industry nervous—especially with the rise in incidents and the seriousness of the injuries. Caroline Saylor is expected to recover without severe scarring but other victims have suffered debilitating injuries requiring skin grafts and reconstructive surgery.
People injured from vaping devices, as well as retailers, need to step up and reveal where those products were purchased so any defect can be tracked, identified and corrected. Until consumers take action the vaping industry is unlikely to do anything—silence is their shield against liability.
If you or someone you know has been injured from an exploding vaping device, be sure to get immediate medical treatment. Then seek out an experienced attorney who can advise you about the likelihood of product defect, and who knows the complex process of investigating the e-cigarette chain of commerce and levels of liability along that chain.