3 California Lawsuits Filed over Exploding E-Cigarettes

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
(photo: Getty Images)

How many consumer products are reasonably expected to blow up in your face from time to time? The U.S. Fire Administration implies there is more than one beside the public’s favorite:

“The shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make them more likely than other products with lithium-ion batteries to behave like ‘flaming rockets’ when a battery fails.”

Last week, attorney Greg Bentley filed three separate lawsuits in Kern and Orange counties on behalf of clients who suffered horrible injuries when their e-cigarettes exploded. The suits all claim that the products are not safe and the industry knows it but doesn’t warn consumers.

The Fire Administration said in its 2014 Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions (pdf) report there were 2.5 million Americans using the personal vaporizers and the number was growing rapidly. They have been on sale in the country since 2007. The report said explosions or fire were “rare” but not unheard of.

Twenty-five incidents were reported in U.S. media between 2009 and 2014, a small sampling no doubt of the actual number. There were nine injuries and no deaths.

The three cases filed by Bentley are pretty gruesome. ABC News required that website users click to see the “graphic images” in their report. Vicente Garza, 23, underwent two surgeries on his mouth and hand after an October 16 explosion that left him with a lisp and an amputated index finger.

Gregory Phillips had an e-cigarette in his pants pocket when it exploded September 11 as he left an e-cigarette store. The blast caused second-degree burns on most of his left leg and sent him to the hospital for 11 days. He had two skin graft surgeries.

Former Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player Danny Califf, 35, had a hole blown in his left cheek when his e-cigarette exploded. Califf’s cheekbone was broken, he had second-degree burns on his face, ear and neck, and he suffered a concussion.

Bentley also represented Jennifer Ries, a San Clemente woman who was awarded $1.9 million by a Riverside County jury in a product liability lawsuit in September. Ries’ dress was set on fire by a VapCigs battery that exploded when she plugged her charger in on the way to the airport for an international trip in March 2013.

The lawsuit named the distributor VapCigs, the wholesaler Cartons2Go and the store where Ries bought the device, Tobacco Expo, but not the Chinese manufacturer. Bentley said he is constrained in who he can sue because many of the manufacturers are in China and beyond the reach of civil litigation.

Bentley told the Los Angeles Times he thought it was the first e-cigarette explosion case to be tried in the country.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Exploding E-Cigarettes Prompt 3 New Lawsuits in California (by Rob Hayes, ABC News)

E-Cigarette Explosions Prompt Three Lawsuits in California (by Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times)

Lawsuits Filed Against Stores Selling E-Cigarettes (by Conan Nolan, NBC News)

Tobacco Lobby Smokes the Opposition in State Legislature (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes (California Department of Public Health) (pdf)

Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions (U.S. Fire Administration) (pdf)

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