Recently, Samsung voluntarily recalled millions of its Galaxy Note 7 phones because the batteries were catching fire and causing injuries. This decision was made at a crucial time—right before the launch of competitor Apple’s new iPhone. Why did they do it? Because within two weeks of its release there were 35 cases of the phone exploding or catching fire. Although that does not seem like a large number of incidents from millions of units, Samsung made the conservative call in light of growing reports of injuries from lithium battery malfunctions in other electronic devices.
There have been many other product recalls—and serious injuries—from lithium battery incidents. In 2006 the big computer companies, including Dell, Apple, Lenovo, and HP, recalled laptops for overheating and exploding lithium ion batteries. As recently as March of 2016, Panasonic and Toshiba recalled laptop battery packs for lithium battery fires. Lenova recalled batteries in 2015. This extraordinary video from 2006 shows what happens when lithium batteries malfunction and explode in a laptop. Imagine if this happened while you were holding a smartphone to your ear.
In the last couple of years there have also been explosions from e-cigarette vaporizers. Just this week a battery exploded in a woman’s purse. Luckily she was uninjured but others have suffered severe burns from explosions and lacerations.
According to a Wall Street Journal interview with Samsung’s handset division Chief Koh Dong-jin, the Galaxy Note 7 battery was produced in one of their plants and the failures were likely caused when negative and positive electrodes touched. It has been suggested by analysts that “quick charge” high-voltage technology advancements may have contributed to the incidents as well. Rapid-charging has become common to satisfy users who are frustrated by short battery life.
Samsung was quick to address the battery malfunctions in response to injuries but some other manufacturers are silent on the issue. This is apparent with the e-cigarette vaporizers, a product that is driving billions of dollars of sales despite the growing number of serious injuries caused by its use.
Lithium battery failures and injuries have now become commonplace with the emphasis placed on manufacturers of the electronic devices to correct the problem. However, in light of the big loss to Samsung, other electronic manufacturers may start putting the heat on the battery manufacturers to mitigate liability. Consumers need to be very careful about the types of products being used, which of those products contain lithium batteries, and which, if any, have been recalled.
If you or someone you know does get hurt, be sure to get immediate medical treatment—battery explosions cause both heat and chemical injuries. You should also seek out an experienced attorney who can advise you about product liability and the complexities of determining how an injury occurred. Battery explosion injuries can be quite serious requiring long-term treatment and special insurance considerations.