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E-cig explosions blamed for facial injuries, severe burns

Dozens of lawsuits allege serious injuries caused by exploding batteries

The exploding cigar was a mainstay of slapstick humor back in the day. But there’s nothing funny about an exploding e-cigarette, according to those who’ve had the experience.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by consumers who say their e-cigs blew up, causing serious and expensive injuries. The Food and Drug Administration has found 134 reports of overheating, fires, and explosions of the devices in the U.S. between 2009 and January 2016, the Wall Street Journal reports. The FDA is phasing in rules covering the devices, which will eventually require government approval before they can be marketed.

Most of the lawsuits allege that the explosions and injuries were caused by the lithium-ion batteries used in the devices, which are mostly made by Chinese companies. The industry argues that the number of explosions and fires is small considering how many of the devices are in use and says many of the mishaps are the result of user error.

Severe burns

A jury in Riverside, Calif., recently awarded $1.9 million in damages to a woman who suffered severe burns when her e-cigarette exploded while hooked up to a car charger. Like most such suits, hers named the retailer, distributor, and wholesaler rather than the manufacturer, since it’s difficult to sue an overseas company.

The Journal article notes another case, that of Rachel Berven of Modesto, Calif. She had been using her vaping device — as the e-cigs are called — for about a year. One day she inserted a new battery and when she fired the device up, it exploded, ripping a hole in her mouth and spewing acid across her body, leaving her with three cracked teeth and scars on her legs and elsewhere.

In another gruesome case, a school counselor in California alleges that his e-cig exploded and tore through his eye, smashing two cheekbones and starting a fire.

Joseph Cavins said he was working at his computer on April 15 when his e-cig “suddenly exploded, striking Joseph in the left eye, continuing past his head, hitting the ceiling, ricocheting off the wall and landing on top of the computer station, where it started a fire,” according to his complaint in Orange County Court, Courthouse News Service reported. He has sued four distributors and retailers.

Cavins said the explosion smashed his orbital and sinus bones, “left several pieces of shrapnel inside the eyeball itself,” causing doctors to remove the eyeball. He will need more surgery to fix his broken bones, reconstructive surgery on his sinus cavity, and he and his wife have both missed work. He sued four distributors and retailers.

The vaping industry contends that many of the incidents are the result of consumers using the wrong chargers. Others involve the more complex “mechanical mods,” which are more customizable than the smaller, cigarette-like e-cigs.

“When used and charged properly, vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than any other product that is powered by lithium-ion batteries, like cellphones or laptops,” Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association told the Journal.

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